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***Chapter One***
Word Count: 4,650

October 1984


Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

He turned in the direction of the person calling him and swore inwardly again. Of course it was her.

"Uh, hey," he said.

"What are you doing here?" she asked.

He frowned a bit.

"Buying a pumpkin," he said, holding up the pumpkin in question. "The same as you are, I guess."

"Well, right, I just meant. You know, why?"

He let out a low whistle. "Holly," he said. If he wasn't careful she'd wander off and he'd never find her because the place was pretty crowded today. Stupid idea to come here on a Saturday, but he didn't have a whole lot of choices when it got down to it. Unless he wanted to come pick out the pumpkin by himself, but that seemed stupid.

"What?" she asked.

"Nothing, I wasn't talking to you," he said.

"Okay," she said, sounding every bit as confused as she probably should be.

"Sorry, I really have to go," he said, walking off in the direction he needed to go.

"Wait," she said.

Fuck. She was following him. That was the last thing he wanted, so of course she would do exactly that.

"Hey," he said, kneeling on the ground and setting the pumpkin next to him. "You need to stay by me, okay? Remember the rules. No running off."

"Who," she started to ask and then stopped herself. John would laugh at the look on her face if it wasn't at his expense.

He grabbed the pumpkin and stood again.

"You?" she said.

"You go to college to learn to talk like that, sweets? Because I'd tell your old man to ask for his money back if that's the case."

"No, I just…"


"Is she yours?"

"No, I woke up this morning and thought it would be a fantastic day to go to the pumpkin patch and hit on the single moms there so I borrowed her from someone who happens to look just like me."

"You don't need to be a smart…" she paused and he smirked as she glanced at Holly. "Mouth."

"Stop asking stupid questions."

"It's not a stupid question."

"It is when the answer is pretty damned obvious."

"But how?"

"How? You need me to explain that to you? Did you skip the day they explained that in health class?"

"Quit being an ass."

"Hey," he said. "I didn't ask you to follow me. So watch your mouth."

"Sorry," she said, looking legitimately apologetic.

"So, what? You decorating your dorm room for Halloween?"

"Yeah, pretty much."


"I didn't know."

"Why would you know?"

"I don't know," she said, biting at her lower lip. "I thought…"

"I don't know what you thought, but it was obviously wrong."

"Wow. Nice. How is that possible? I mean, she's not a baby. How could no one know?"

"I didn't want them to?"

"How old is she?"

"Eighteen months."


"You questioning whether I know how to count?"

"No, I was just doing the math. That would've been our sophomore year."

"Yes," he said cautiously.

"I didn't know."

"We've established that already."

"You kissed me…"

"Jesus, really? I'm not dead. I'm an eighteen year old guy. You came to me. What did you think I was going to do? Take the high road and tell you to get out? Remember, that's all I did was kiss you. There was a reason for that," he said, gesturing to Holly. People thought he was getting laid left and right. It was an image he didn't do much to change. It kept the attention off other things like his home life and eventually that he was seemingly friendly with someone he'd been with years ago. Friendly was being nice. They weren't friends. He didn't even really like her, but she was Holly's mom so he tried to work with her as best as he could.

"What's her name?"


"It's cute."

"I had nothing to do with it. Her mom picked it out."

"Oh," she said.

"Is she? Are you?"

"With her? No, never really was."

"I'd say you were with her at some point."

"Well, yeah, long enough for her to happen anyway."


He shrugged. "It is what it is."

"What are you doing?"

He sighed softly, watching Holly as she wandered a bit but stayed close to him. He absolutely didn't want to be standing here having a conversation with her here. Holly would go back to her mom tomorrow night and babble to her about John talking to a woman. Then the questions would start. Betty seemed to have it in her head that one day John was going to wake up and love her.

"Didn't we already establish that? I'm here buying her a pumpkin."

"No, I meant, in general. You know. Are you working? Going to school?"

"Oh, yeah. No school, no. I'm working downtown at a garage."

"Oh," she said. "Good."

"Yeah, I can tell you're impressed and thrilled."

"That's not fair."

"Life's not fair, sweets. Haven't you heard, life's a bitch and then you die? Anyway, I really have to go," he said. "It's colder than I expected and if I give her back to her mom sick she'll freak out on me."

"She's wearing a hat."

"So you know she's not going to get sick? Yeah, okay, I'll take your word for it with all of your professional medical experience."

"Why are you being so nasty to me?"

Did she really have to ask him that?

They'd spent hours making out at school the day of detention. He'd thought he'd behaved well. Like a gentleman some people might say. He didn't talk like that, but likely Claire knew people who did. There'd been a reason for his behavior being of the good variety. He hadn't dared having sex since Holly was conceived because he didn't want to take the chance it'd happen again. On the pill, my ass. He was never going to trust that line again in his life. Ever. So, he thought Monday when he got to school she'd be nice to him, talk to him, and maybe just maybe they could do more of the kissing they both seemed to enjoy somewhere other than Shermer High School and with Vernon roaming the halls.

He'd been wrong because she'd barely given him the time of day. Oh, she'd been nicer than she had been the previous Friday at school, but he recognized the signs of dismissal and distaste well enough. He never would have imagined not fucking a girl would get the response he'd gotten out of her. Eventually, he stopped going past her locker because it wasn't worth it.

"Is there a reason I should be nice to you?"

"I can't believe you're still mad at me over something that happened like six months ago."

"You can't believe I'm still mad at you for being a bitch?"

"And you tell me to watch my mouth."

"She's my kid! And she's not listening to us right now."

"At least let me help you."

"Help me with what?"

"Well, I can carry your pumpkin if you need to carry Holly."

He glanced at her suspiciously.

"You want to carry my pumpkin for me, Princess?"

"Well, it seems as though you have your hands full."

"All right," he said, handing her the pumpkin so he could pick up Holly. She came to him willingly. She seemed to like being held by him and try as he might to deny it he liked holding her. She was better now at this age than she had been before. He hadn't been able to see her much until graduation. He wouldn't let her at his house so he'd rented a hotel room a few times on Saturday so he could have her for an overnight, but otherwise he just saw her when he could. So, until the past four or five months he wasn't a steady fixture in her life.

At first he hadn't wanted to be any part of her life. Her mom had lied to him, tricked him. Why she'd chosen him of all the guys she could've gotten knocked up by was baffling to him. There were others who hung out with him who could've actually afforded a kid eighteen months ago. John had shit to his name, which was the reason he'd turned to selling the product he had. His supplier was good, never selling John cheap shit. He hadn't questioned why John suddenly wanted more, quantities exceeding what John could smoke by himself. It had gotten him enough money to keep Betty off his back, and from telling her parents who he was who'd tell his parents. His parents finding out would very likely have led to him not breathing anymore so her willingness to keep them out of things sort of indebted him to her in a way he didn't like.

He'd found a job after graduation through a friend of a friend who knew this guy running the garage he was working at. John almost thought the guy wasn't going to hire him, but he'd called about three days later and offered him the job.

Dawson wasn't the nicest guy to work for, but John wasn't there to make friends with anyone. He was fair, the hours were long but the work had proven steady to this point. As long as the work kept coming in so he kept earning paychecks he didn't care if his boss was Fidel Castro.

"Thanks," he said.


"So, where are you going to school then that this place is convenient for you?"

"I'm actually just here for the weekend. I'm at University of Iowa."

"Ah," he said. So, it was just a fluke that he ran into her today. Great. "Liking it so far?"

"It's all right."


"And you? Your job?"

"It's a job. I fix cars for a living."

"Does Holly live with you?"

"No. I get her every weekend and one night during the week."

"I see. What does her mom do?"

"She works at Jewel," he said.

"Oh," she said with a frown.

"Yeah, she's still living with her parents." Betty wasn't the most ambitious person. People thought John had a drug problem. He couldn't recall the last time he'd seen Betty not stoned out of her mind. He'd be more concerned if her parents weren't the ones really doing the most with Holly.

He paid for the pumpkin, walking with Claire to his car. He settled Holly in her seat before opening the trunk and taking the pumpkin from her.

"Thanks," he said.

"That's okay. She seems tired."

"Closing in on naptime."

"Okay. Well," she said. "It was nice seeing you."

He scoffed at that.

"You, too, sweets. Safe travels back to Iowa."

"Thanks," she said.

He closed the trunk, watching as she walked back toward the place. She seemed to be alone. So, she'd really just come here wanting to get a pumpkin. Strange.

"Hey, Claire," he said.

"Yeah?" she asked, turning around to face him.

"I was going to take her down the street for lunch."


"If you were hungry," he said, letting the thought drift off. She'd probably shoot him down anyway so it really didn't matter.

"Um," she said, glancing at her watch. "Sure, give me a few minutes to pick out my pumpkin and I'll meet you guys there."

"Sure," he said. "See you there."

He slid into his car, glancing at Holly through his rearview mirror. He had no idea what had come over him to ask her to join them. He didn't like involving people with Holly. He didn't have friends so he didn't want her to get to know people that were just fleeting things in his life.

He liked Claire, though. He'd liked her seven months ago enough to spend hours kissing her. He'd liked her enough to contemplate asking her out on a date. He hadn't gotten the chance to. He thought she'd liked him back, though. He really had. It was the first time since he'd heard the words 'I'm pregnant' he'd even thought about a girl like that.

"We'll carve the pumpkin after your nap, okay?" he said as he started the car.

He had no idea if she'd actually show up and have lunch with them. It'd serve him right for putting himself out there to have her blow him off again.

"Let's go get some lunch then."


Claire couldn't believe she'd run into John here of all places. Small world. She'd been coming here since she was a kid to get her pumpkins with her parents. She doubted somehow John had gotten too many pumpkins growing up, so how did he know about this place? Then, she supposed everyone knew about it whether they came here or not.

She found a pumpkin big enough for her to actually carve but not too big that it would take up a ton of space on her dorm's desk. God, she hated dorm living. She couldn't wait until next year when she could have a place off-campus. She didn't care what her father said, she was never going to get used to having a room so small. Not to mention having to share everything, including the shower, was just so beneath her. And truly disgusting.

She sat in her car for a few minutes, debating about what to do. He'd invited her to lunch, certainly he was doing it to be nice. John couldn't have a lot of friends because he usually went out of his way to be a complete jerk to people.

It was why she hadn't talked to him after detention. She'd been too afraid to. Afraid to be on the receiving end of one of his sarcastic quips or barbs in front of her friends. She'd wanted to. God. She hated seeing the look of confusion in his eyes, but she couldn't do it. She wasn't willing to risk her reputation to have him dismiss her rudely and publicly humiliate her.

So she'd done the only thing she knew to do and save face, blow him off first. Immature and perhaps wrong.

So, did she go to lunch with him? She had no idea what they'd talk about. She had no idea what seeing him actually interact with his daughter – he had a child, a baby still really – would be like. She started her car, rolling her window down just a smidge to let some air in. It was cool, but she still liked the air.

She knew which restaurant he was talking about because there was no place else around here to eat. Well, unless you wanted to go a couple of exits down the expressway, but he hadn't mentioned doing that. Her parents had taken her and her brother there many times after picking out their pumpkins over the years. It was a pretty good restaurant if she remembered correctly, though it'd been years since she'd been there. As she got older her parents hadn't felt the need to include lunch in the pumpkin-picking adventure.

She pulled onto the parking lot. Curiosity was what led to her being here. It absolutely was not interest in him anymore that had her joining him for lunch. She'd gotten over that interest months ago. She wanted to know how he pulled off having a baby for the last year of high school basically and no one knew about it. She'd have heard, too, if anyone knew. It was just the way Shermer High worked, and ultimately whatever was gossip-worthy had gotten to her whether it involved someone she cared about or not. She knew everything about everyone that went to school there. Good and bad. She wasn't afraid to use that information either if it benefitted her or her friends.

She spotted them sitting in a booth together. John hadn't noticed her yet because he was busy helping her color. As she approached the table she noticed that she had her own coloring book and crayons, so John had come prepared to take her to lunch. She found her heart, and her crabby attitude toward him, softening a bit at that.

"You made it," he said once she got to the table.

"I wasn't sure…"

"You and me both, but sit down. Unless you just came to tell me you weren't going to have lunch with us."

"No," she said, sliding out of her leather jacket and setting it in the space next to her at the booth. He was watching her. Intently. Some might say staring, but she knew he was checking her out, taking her in. He wasn't doing it to be rude. He hadn't really seen her since March beyond in passing here and there.

"You look good," he said.

"Thank you," she said.

"Obviously college agrees with you."

"I like it," she answered.

"Even the boring drive?"

"Yeah, I did not want to drive home this weekend, but a friend of mine is getting married over Christmas break and her shower is tomorrow. I'm one of the bridesmaids so I sort of have to be there."

"Friends getting married already?"

"Yeah, you know her. Penny Lundquist and Bobby O'Brien."

"I know Bobby," he said with a slight nod.

"And you don't know Penny? They've been together since before high school."

"I only know him from a couple of parties that I doubt Penny would have gone to with him."

"Oh," she said. She hadn't realized Bobby was that kind of guy. She wondered if Penny knew he was.

"He didn't come to many. I had a feeling he'd been dragged along to the few I saw him at. I didn't see him doing lines of coke or anything."

"Well, that's good to know."

She should be surprised that he went to parties where lines of coke were readily available, but then nothing really surprised her about John.

"So, you have her until tomorrow then?"

"Yeah, I'll drop her off at her mom's on my way to work Monday morning."

"Do I know her mom?"

"I doubt it. She was a couple of grades ahead of us."

"You mean, she's older than us?"

"Yes, that's what a couple of grades ahead of us implies, sweets."

"And she did that with you when you were a sophomore?"


"That's illegal!"

"You going to call the cops on her?" He snorted a bit at that, shaking his head a little. She supposed her reaction was ridiculous. Their sophomore year he'd probably already been having sex so doing it with someone older wouldn't be that big of a deal to him.

"I'm just surprised."

"Believe it or not, Princess, chicks dig me."

"I believe it, and look where it got you!"

"Yeah, well, she lied. She said she was on the pill."

"Oh," Claire said. "She tricked you?"

"It would seem."

"To what end?"

"I don't know I was sixteen it's not like I could marry her. It wasn't like her home life was terrible and mine was great to where I was going to ask her to move in with me and my parents or something. I really don't know."

"And you just what?"

"What are you asking me?"

"Do you even know she's yours for sure?"

"Look at her and tell me you have a doubt she's mine."

"Well, no, but I'm not the one giving her mom money every month."

"I had a test done, don't worry. I'm not that stupid, but it was a formality. I knew the second I saw her."

"She is adorable."

"Why thank you, Princess. I think that's the closest you've ever come to complimenting me. Since she looks just like me I'll take it you think I'm adorable, too."

"When you're not being an…" she paused, glancing at Holly. She didn't seem to be paying them any attention, but still. "Jerk."

"It's what I do best."


"Anyway, she does as little as possible. I can honestly say I'm not even sure the money I give her every month goes to Holly over her habits. That's why I try to do things when she's with me like buy pumpkins because I doubt Betty will."

"Why don't you have her then?"

"Well, at the time, I was sixteen and my home life wasn't ideal for me let alone a baby."

"And now?"

"I work."

"Parents work. That's what daycare is for."

"I don't have the cash for things like a lawyer, Claire. One day maybe. In the meantime, I just do the best I can with the time I get with her. I'm hoping I can slowly ease her into the realization that I have majority custody without her even knowing what I'm doing. That's why I bring her back Monday mornings and have her once during the week when I can. So when I have the cash I can hit her with that. She's not a great mother, but she wanted to be one for whatever reason so she's not just going to hand her over to me without a fight."

"I suppose," she said. "Didn't you like ask to see them?"

"What? Her pills? No, why on earth would I think she'd lie about that? I'm not the catch of the century or anything."

Claire actually didn't think he was as bad a catch as he claimed to be. Underneath it all she thought he was a pretty good guy. She'd had her doubts about him in the spring, but that was more her looking out for herself than anything. Clearly, though, despite not expecting to be a dad he was doing all right by his daughter.

"So, you're working downtown?" she asked.

He smirked at that. Totally busted on changing the subject away from what kind of catch he'd be.


"How long have you been working?"

"Since June, a couple of weeks after graduation. This guy I know through someone else got his car fixed at the garage. The owner had more business than he could handle. He knows I'm good with cars so he thought maybe I could talk to the guy about a job."

"You're good with cars?"

"Yes," he said dryly. "It's what I do. You think my hands are just naturally so beautiful?"

"I just didn't know."

There were a lot of things she didn't know about him evidently.

"The hours can be long. He's one of those bosses who works right along with me, which is good. He doesn't like to leave for the day with work unfinished, though."

"Oh," she said.

"He tries to understand I don't live downtown and have a commute to and from there, but I guess he thinks I applied for the job too. I don't know. So, sometimes I don't get back to my apartment until seven or eight o'clock at night."

"And that's why you can't have her in daycare," she said, glancing at Holly.

"Right. I don't know daycares that are open that late. The latest I've seen or heard of is six o'clock. If I get to the point of pushing for custody I'll deal with Dawson and my hours then. Until then, I'm not going to snub my nose at some very good paychecks."

"Lots of overtime I bet if you're there late every day."

"Yes. He goes in on Saturdays sometimes, but he doesn't ask me to do that."

"Would you?"

"If I don't have Holly I would, sure."

"She's very good."

"She's tired. I think if we're here much longer she'll get very crabby and have a breakdown, but I planned the visit around her nap. We'll get home and she'll crash and burn for a couple of hours."

"What will you do?"

"Probably nap right along with her," he said with a shrug.

"With her, with her?"

"Yeah, she likes crashing in my bed. She has a crib and everything, and I put her in for the night but for naps I don't mind."

"That's kind of sweet," she said. She bet there were people from Shermer who'd pay good money to see John snuggling up next to a baby, sleeping with her. Claire, admittedly, was one of them because it was so far from the image he put out to everyone.

"Anyway, speaking of the time."

"I understand. My parents are probably wondering what happened to me anyway."

"So, shower tomorrow?"

"Yes," she said. "My first."


"I hope my last for a while."

"You don't want your friends to get married?"

"I think getting married right out of high school is kind of ridiculous."

"I tend to agree, but if you're in love," he shrugged.

"You believe in love?"

"For me? Not really, but I've seen enough to believe it exists, sure."

"Why not for you?"

"I'm a sarcastic fuck at eighteen, I don't think that's going to improve. Finding someone to put up with me would be next to impossible. I've got a kid, what more do I need."

"There's more to love than babies."

"Really? What?"

"Well, I don't know."

"When you figure out the answer, sweets, let me know."

She pulled out her purse, setting her wallet on the table. John set his hand over hers, stopping her from opening it.

"I asked you here. I'll buy."

"Yes, but…"

"I'll buy. It was nice not to eat with just her. No offense to her, she's cute but she's not very talkative and I feel like I have to eat in two seconds when it's just the two of us."


"Because I'm tying up someone's table for a fifteen dollar tab."

"It's better than no one sitting here."

"I suppose that's true, but everyone's pumpkin searching today so I would've felt bad."

"I can see that. And thank you. At least let me leave a tip."

"All right," he said. She hoped that sounded fair.

She waited for him to get Holly ready to go before they walked to the front counter area for him to pay. She continued onto the parking lot, waiting for him out there.

"Well, it was nice seeing you," she said. She had no idea what else to say to him.

"Glad I could surprise you, Princess."

"It was a shock."

"I'd appreciate it if you didn't go to your shower tomorrow and talk about what you saw."

"You're ashamed of her?"

"I'm ashamed of being an idiot," he said. She knew that couldn't have been easy for him to admit. "I'd just rather people didn't know, you know."

"I wasn't planning on telling anyone, John, don't worry. It's not my place to tell anyway."

"Well, thanks," he said. "Drive safe when you head back to Iowa tomorrow. You're not drinking at the shower, are you?"

"No, her mom will be there."

"Ah," he said. "So an actual shower not the bachelorette thing?"

"No, we'll probably do that over Thanksgiving break."

"Well, have fun, don't do anything I wouldn't do."

"Yeah, well, doing things you would do I'm not sure I want to do those either."

"Ha ha. I deserved that, I guess."

She walked to her car then, watching him for a minute as he settled Holly in his car. What a strangely unexpected side to him. He was an asshole at first, but he hadn't been at lunch at all. She supposed she couldn't really blame him for acting like that to her at first. She had acted like a bitch toward him. If he'd given any indication that he actually liked her, was interested in her, she wouldn't have. Him walking by her locker was not the indication she was looking for.

"Oh well," she said. No point in thinking on it further. The chances of her running into him again anytime soon were next to nil since today was a huge fluke.

Return to Top

***Chapter Two***
Word Count: 3,602

December 1984

Claire sat in her car for a minute certain she had the wrong place. God, was there a worse part of the city he could be working in? She imagined there probably were, but this was pretty bad. She almost didn't want to get out of her car.

She did, though, locking the door before closing it. She slid her purse over her forearm after adjusting her collar higher around her neck. It was so cold. It had barely hit twenty yesterday on Christmas. So depressing. On the plus side it seemed to be getting warmer out tonight. Hopefully it would be decent for Penny and Bobby's wedding on Saturday. Why anyone would choose to get married during the winter Claire couldn't comprehend, but she guessed it took all kinds. And Bobby shipping off to boot camp in a couple of weeks.

She scrunched her nose a little bit as she regarded the building. People actually brought their cars here? She supposed there was maybe truth to the not judging a book by its cover saying, but the building looked so rundown. The tow truck outside at least looked well maintained.

She opened the door, stepping inside. Of course the door squeaked a little, causing her to jump a bit.

What was she even doing here? He hadn't asked for her help. He hadn't even suggested he wanted or needed help. She would laugh if he yelled at her for sticking her nose into his business uninvited. It would serve her right.

"Can I help you?"

"Holy shit," she exclaimed, unable to hold it in. He was like half a foot taller than she was, and she wasn't a short person in the least. He was also a very large guy in general, height aside. And not that she usually went for blondes, but not at all bad looking either.

"Did you need something?"

"Yeah, uh, sorry, I didn't mean to," she stammered. "I'm looking for John Bender. Does he work here?"

If he didn't. If she had the wrong place she was screwed. She only had the name Dawson to go on that John had mentioned in passing. She assumed it was a last name, finding this place as a result. There were a surprising number of companies with Dawson in their name downtown, but only one garage. If it was a first name. Well, she'd just say fuck it and go home. There were a few friends of his she knew by name, they might know where she could find him. Beyond that, she had no way of finding him.

"He does. This is his job, though. You realize that? I'm not paying him to," he paused, letting his eyes travel along her body. Oh God, he thought, she was here for that. Great.

"I just need to talk to him. Five minutes," she said, reaching into her purse. "I'll pay you," she said, taking out her wallet. "How much would five minutes of his time cost you?"

He squinted a bit, regarding her and the wallet she held.

"Save it. I don't want your money, just don't monopolize too much of his time. He's in the middle of something."

"Right, sure, five minutes should be about all I need. Thank you," she said.

He stood there. He didn't say anything else. Was she supposed to stand here and wait for John? Was she supposed to go find him? What? John hadn't said his boss was quite so intimidating.

"I, uh, where can I find him?"

"You can have a seat in there, I'll send him in. What's your name?"

"Claire," she said. "You may be better off not telling him that part."

"You're not here to bring drama to my garage, are you, Claire? If he didn't call you back or something, that ain't my problem."

"What? No!" Oh God. "Nothing like that."

"Fine. Wait here," he said, walking away. She couldn't help but watch for a second. He was kind of scary, but he wasn't bad looking at all. She could see John working for him somehow, though, maybe not. John could be sarcastic and rude himself. She wondered how many times they'd butted heads while he'd been working here.

She stood there, glancing at the walls which had nothing on them and were more than filthy. Then she supposed this wasn't the type of place her father would bring his car to. People who came here probably didn't stay while they got their oil changed so they weren't expecting some place to sit or magazines to read while waiting.

She sighed, sliding her wallet back into her purse, forgetting for a moment that she'd pulled it out of her purse. She slid her gloves off then, tucking them into her coat pockets. She almost leaned against the wall, catching herself at the last second. Her mother would kill her if she had to bring this coat to the dry cleaners for a last minute cleaning before going back to school since she'd just gotten it cleaned about a month ago.

"Can I … Oh," he said with a frown. He was wiping his hands on a towel, much the same way his boss had been doing when he greeted her. Greeted was overstating what he'd done. Someone needed to give him lessons in how to treat potential customers. "Hey," he said.

"Hi," she said.

"What are you doing here, Claire?"

"I'm sorry. I know you're at work, but I had no other way of knowing where you were."

"And you needed to know where I was because?"

She reached into her purse again.

"I don't know if you are aware my dad's a lawyer."

"I do know that. Sure. Who doesn't?" he asked. She supposed that went without saying. Her dad had gotten pretty famous over the years defending more than one person of questionable morals and varying degrees of innocence. He was good at his job, so his name had been on the news and in papers more than a few times over the years.

"Okay," she said.

"Claire, what does this have to do with anything? I'm at work, you know? I can't have random women showing up here or I'm going to lose the job. I do have another mouth to feed, you know that, right?"

"I do, I'm sorry."

"So can you get to the point?"

"I did tell him I'd pay him for your time."

"You told him that?" he asked, surprised and perhaps a little impressed.

"Well, yes, I'm not trying to get you in trouble."

"Okay. Thanks. The point?"

"Sorry. Well, you said you can't afford a lawyer."


"I talked to my dad. He'd do it for you," she said. She slid her dad's business card out of her purse, holding it out for him.

"He'd do it for me. What does that mean?"

"He said he'd handle the case for you, as a favor to me."

"But your dad's a criminal attorney."

"Sure. A high paid one, too. Do you think she, Holly's mom I mean, can afford one better than him?"

"Well, put like that, no, of course she can't."

He still wasn't taking the card, though.

"I'm not exactly in a position to do anything about it right now, though."

"Well, I understand that, but I have no idea when I'm going to see you again or when you will be ready. So, here's his card. I told him your name, so whenever you decide to call he'll know who you are."

"Why are you doing this?"

She shrugged. "Why not? I also," she said, pulling a small piece of paper from her purse. "Have a friend's mom who does daycare out of her home. She's a former pediatric nurse who retired to take care of her grandchild."


"She's licensed and everything, so she only has the limit she places on herself for how many kids she takes care of."

"You know if I didn't know you better, Claire, I'd say you actually gave a shit about me."

"You can think what you want. I've given you tools. I can't make you use them. I can vouch for my friend's mother. She's not violent or anything else. She makes wholesome meals for the kids she takes care of. Since one of them is her grandson she sort of treats them all as if they were hers. She takes them to the park by her house every day. During the winter she lets them play outside for a while in her yard if it's not real cold. During the summer she takes them to the zoo and stuff. She has a minivan so has room for all of them. As far as I know she's never charged more for things like trips to the zoo. I wrote down the rate she quoted me for someone Holly's age. I told her your hours weren't set and she said she'd have no problem keeping Holly until seven o'clock, depending on the drop-off time. She said it'd be the same rate until she gets potty trained. I don't know when that may be."

"Uh, yeah, a year or so maybe. People say two, but I've heard three is more the average."

"You're over your five minutes," his boss said from somewhere nearby but not in eyesight.

"Sorry," she said.

"Don't worry about it. He just likes to be an asshole."

"He's kind of scary."

"He's not so bad as long as you don't piss him off."

"And I'm pissing him off by holding you up. I'm sorry."

"It's fine." He slid her dad's card and the paper into his back pocket. "I'll walk you to your car."

"I'm fine."

"You say that, but I wouldn't feel right letting you walk out there by yourself. Let me just tell him I'll be back in a minute so his head doesn't explode."

"Okay," she said, tugging her gloves out of her pocket to put them back on. She thought about going out to her car without him, but he obviously had a reason for not wanting her to go out there alone. He knew the neighborhood she didn't.

He returned a minute later, leading her to the door.

"Listen, thanks," he said when they got to her car.


"No, that's a lot you did for me. I appreciate it. I'll at least call your dad and see what he thinks he can do for me."

"I told him you already have her four nights a week."

"You did?" He sounded impressed she remembered that he'd told her that.

"Yeah, he seemed to like that."

"Yeah," he said. "I visited a lawyer about a year ago, just to find out what my rights were, you know? I had no clue. I've been giving her cash every month, but there's nothing legal setup. She tricked me, which means nothing I was told. I knew the chance still existed pill or not that she could get pregnant."

"Well, talk to my dad."

"I will. Really, thanks."

"Do me a favor, though."

"What?" he said, sounding like he was in a hurry. She knew he was. She'd taken way more than five minutes of his time.

"Just make sure you actually want her before you take that step."


"If you're doing it as a fuck you to Betty that's not the right reason."

"I know that. She's better off with me. I believe that. I don't want to take her away from Betty, I just want majority custody and the right to stop visitation if she can't clean herself up."

"She's into drugs?"

"Listen, I really have to go, okay or he's liable to fire me. I need the job. You know?"

"I do, I'm sorry. Do I need to give him money after all?"

"No, don't be ridiculous. I'll deal with him. It's hard for me to be mad at you when you did all this for me. Thanks."

"Yeah," she said. She got into her car then. He walked back to the entrance, but waited to actually go back inside until she'd driven off the parking lot he noticed. Just how bad was the neighborhood?


"Is she your girlfriend?" Dawson asked when he got back inside and returned to work.

"No, just a friend. She had some information for me to help me with my daughter."

"So, she's not going to be coming around here all of the time or anything?"

"No," John said with a roll of his eyes. It was the first time in the months he'd been working here he'd taken an actual break beyond a few minutes here and there for a cigarette. And lunch, which Dawson couldn't legally prevent him from taking.

"Good to know. I didn't realize you had friends like that."

"Like what?" he asked.

"Rich ones."

John sighed softly. He supposed it was obvious from what she was wearing and more than likely Dawson had taken a peak to see the Cadillac convertible she was driving. John didn't know cars as well as Dawson did (John was pretty sure his boss even dreamt about cars when he was sleeping) but even he knew it wasn't cheap.

"Her dad does all right."

"I'd say. College?"

"Yeah," John said.

"Out of state?"

This was the most chatty his boss had been since he'd started working there. It suited him just fine, John wasn't a natural conversationalist either.

"Yeah, Iowa," he said. "Why?"

"He thinks she's cute," the tow truck driver Pruitt, first name also John, said from the office.

Great. Just what John didn't want to think about, someone being interested in her. Why he was surprised, he couldn't say. She was attractive. His boss wasn't blind and as far as he knew was into women, though he'd never seen any evidence that he had a social life whatsoever.

"She's a little young, don't you think?" John asked his boss. He was at least four years older than they were. Maybe more, he wasn't sure. Dawson only vaguely ever referred to things that would give him any indication of what he'd done before owning this garage or even how long he'd owned it.

"She's legal," Dawson said to which the tow truck driver laughed.

"I guess so," John said, not knowing how else to respond. Was he wanting him to give him her number? That was not going to happen. Hell, John didn't even have her number anymore. He certainly didn't have her number at school. He set back to work then, best thing for him to avoid any conflict. He finally had a picture in his head worse than Claire having a boyfriend. (The guy she went to prom with didn't count, because John knew he was just a means to an end for her to get her crown. He wasn't a boyfriend.) A boyfriend he knew.

He got done fairly early.

He'd spent the rest of his shift going over their conversation. It took more than a bit of guts for her to show up here. He thought about her driving around in that fancy car of hers and it pissed him off she'd risk her safety for him. She didn't know the neighborhood. John didn't even like walking around outside after dark. He went to the bay doors to have his cigarettes, never wandering very far from the building.

If something had happened to her he'd never forgive himself.

He pulled the business card and the piece of paper out of his pocket she'd given him. The business card was pretty self-explanatory. The piece of paper was, too, except she'd written more than just the name of her friend's mom and the rate she'd charge him.

If you have problems getting a hold of my dad or Mrs. Kuzinski, call me.

She'd written both her numbers on there. He tried to picture her living in a dorm room, and had a hard time seeing it. She'd have to he guessed, most colleges he knew of required first year students live on-campus. He doubted even her dad could get her out of that.

"Hey, Dawson, I'm going to use your phone for a minute," he called out. Dawson was in the back getting cleaned up, where John had just come from.

"Just use the damned thing," Pruitt said.

"Yeah, thanks," he said. He picked it up, dialing Betty's number.

"Uh hi, Mrs. Cummings, this is John. I just wanted to let you know I'll be late picking up Holly."

'She's already asleep, John.'

"Oh, she is?"

'Yeah, she fell asleep about thirty minutes ago.'

That hadn't stopped him from picking her up for the night before, but there wasn't much point in waking her up just to get her to his apartment and put her back to bed. By the time he got done doing what he needed to do that's what her night with him would amount to.

"I'll pick her up tomorrow after work then."

'Okay. We'll be expecting you.'

"Thanks," he said.

He hung up, glancing at Pruitt who was watching him.

"Somewhere more important to be than your daughter?" he asked.

"I have to make sure she got home okay," he said, holding up the note he still held.

"Give her address to Dawson, he'll do it," Pruitt said.

"I'm not sure her old man would appreciate that," he said.

"Or you I'm guessing," Pruitt said with a soft chuckle.

"Makes me no difference."

Pruitt just chuckled some more, saying nothing else. He tugged on the brim of his old baseball cap with the hook that served as his hand. It was a little unsettling for John to see him do stuff like that with it. He expected the guy to poke his eye out or something.

"See you tomorrow," John said.

"You bet."

John Pruitt was an interesting guy. He was a nice guy, probably should've been the one running the garage. He at least tried to have people skills to treat the customers decently. Dawson was all business, almost to the point of losing future business. Evidently he didn't care and it was his garage so he could do as he pleased.

He made his way to the Standish's house, parking on the street even though there was more than enough room on their driveway for his car. He shoved his hands in his coat pockets after he rang the bell. It warmed up some, but it was still cold and evidently he'd left his gloves at the garage.

"May I help you?"

"Hi, I'm wondering if Claire is home."

"She's upstairs. Let me get her."

"No," John said.

"I'm sorry?" her mom said.

"I just wanted to be sure she got home all right. She came to visit me at work today and it's not the best neighborhood."

"She got home a couple of hours ago. That was nice of you to check up on her. What's your name?"

"John Bender, ma'am."

"Oh, yes, of course, I heard her mention your name to my husband when she was home for Thanksgiving."

Something told John she knew what the mention was in regard to, because she went from being stoic and polite to having a look of disdain on her face in a matter of seconds. There probably wasn't anything worse to her mom than John coming to look for her daughter. Can't get much more proof that he was sexually active than the fact he had a kid.

"Uh, yeah."

"I'll let her know you came calling then," she said.

"Sure," he said. "Thanks."

The last word was said to the closed door.


John stepped off the doorstep, glancing at the house for a minute before he headed back to his car. He started it and sat there for a minute, setting his head against his headrest while he thought on Claire's mom. He couldn't blame her for being rude to him, especially if she knew about Holly.

Her reaction was exactly the reason he avoided people finding out about her as best as he could. He didn't like the reaction. He was stupid. He'd fucked up. He'd been told a lie and bought it. He wasn't a bad guy, though. He didn't think so, anyway.

"Jesus," he said when his passenger side door opened suddenly.

"I'm so sorry," she said.

"For what?"

"My mom. I can only imagine what she said to you."

"She didn't say much. She didn't have to. How did you know I was here?"

"I saw you walking away from the house."

"And she let you come after me?"

"I snuck out my bedroom window," she said with a shrug.

"I'm not going to be responsible for you getting in trouble, Claire, go back inside."

"I just wanted to be sure everything was all right."

"Funny, that's why I drove here tonight. I wanted to be sure you got home all right."

"I did."

"I can see that."

"Thank you for checking, though."

"I hope you never go back there again," he said. For more than one reason. He wanted her as far away from his boss as he could get her.

"I have no plans on it."

"Good," he said simply. "Now go inside."

"So that's it?"


"You were just here to make sure I got home all right?"


She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

"Good night," she said, drawing away and getting out of his car.

"Fuck," he whispered. What the hell was he supposed to do with that?

Return to Top

***Chapter Three***
Word Count: 5,939

Claire had no business being here. The only reason she didn't feel bad about doing it was because it was morning yet. Besides it was New Year's Eve. She was sure he had plans somewhere, doing something, but it was her excuse for coming here today. To see if he had plans. If he didn't? She was going to tell him about the party she was going to tonight. He'd never show up in a million years. He'd made it pretty plain he didn't like her in that way. Never mind her friends weren't his friends.

So why was she here making a potential ass out of herself?

She opened the door slowly, balancing the carrier and the bag she held in one hand. The squeak had to be loud enough the entire neighborhood could hear it. She'd known about it from being here last week, so she wasn't sure why it freaked her out a second time.

"Oh," his boss, Dawson said. "It's you again." He didn't look as upset about her being here this time around and she couldn't help but wonder why.

"Yeah. I just wanted not even a minute of his time today."

"You can't have it."

"I even brought coffee and donuts. For both of you," she said, holding out the carrier and the bag.

"Nice gesture, but you still can't have it."

"Come on, don't be ridiculous. I'm asking for a minute of his time."

"Last time you took longer than the five you said you were here for."

"I didn't mean to!" John said he was an ass, but surely he couldn't be this much of one.

"Either way, you can't have a minute of his time because he's not here."

"Oh," she said. She hadn't thought of that.

"His daughter's sick or something so he had to take her to the doctor."

"Nothing serious, I hope."

"I don't know. I didn't ask, none of my business."

"That his daughter is sick?"

"Nope," he said. "He called, that's all I care about."

"Okay. Well, sorry to take you away from whatever you were working on."

"I wasn't yet actually," he said.

"Oh, well, still, you're here obviously so you were doing something."

"I was working on some paperwork. Ironically, cars don't get paid for without it."

"I guess not," she said.

"So, was the coffee and donuts just for me if he was here?"


"You said you brought enough for both of us. So, does that mean you're going to take it with you since he's not here?"

"I," she frowned. She hadn't anticipated him not being here so she'd stopped at Dunkin' Donuts to buy some stuff not far from here. It was early enough she thought it was appropriate. "Well, no, I can't drink three cups of coffee."

"Well, then, come sit and have coffee with me."


"Don't tell your boyfriend this, but there wasn't a whole lot to do today anyway. I came in over the weekend to finish up as much as I could. It's New Year's Eve. I was going to cut him loose early."

"He's not my boyfriend."

"You sure about that?"

"Yes, I'd know if I had a boyfriend."

"Well, that works out perfectly then. You don't have a boyfriend, you brought coffee, I'm sitting in my office working on paperwork. You can keep me company and no one will get mad or jealous."


"You have something else to do? You brought coffee for yourself so clearly you planned on drinking it. That takes longer than a minute."

"I was going to take it with me."

"My wrecker driver should be here shortly, I'm sure he'd drink the third cup."

"Sure," she said.

"Sure you'll stay and drink it here?"

"I shouldn't…"

"I shouldn't do a lot of things, but I do them anyway because I want to."

"Sure," she said, walking toward him. If he hadn't said his other employee was going to be here she probably wouldn't have.

His office was actually somewhat clean. Even remotely organized. She supposed it had to be if he wanted to get paid. Seeing the rest of the building, though, she expected it to look like her brother's bedroom when they were kids. Like a tornado hit and scattered everything everywhere. The chair he offered her was even clean.

She set the carrier and bag of donuts on his desk, taking one of the cups for herself.

"No donuts?"

"Uh no," she said.

"Why not?"

"I don't know."

"Come on. How can you go into a Dunkin' Donuts and not buy yourself a donut?"

"I wasn't hungry?"

"It's a donut not a seven-course meal."

"I'm fine."

"Suit yourself." He opened the bag, taking a donut out before grabbing a cup of coffee. He chose one of the cream filled ones with chocolate frosting on top. Those were her brother's favorite, which was why she bought it. "So, what did you want with John?"

"I was going to see if he had plans tonight. There's a party I thought he might like to go to."

"With you?"

"Well, no, he knows other people who would be there."

"I suspect he'll be home with his kid."

"Won't he bring her back to her mom?"

"Doubt it if she's sick. Maybe," he shrugged. "I don't know. Why do you want him to go to this party anyway if he's not your boyfriend?"

"It's New Year's Eve. Everyone should have something to do."

He took a bite out of the donut, nodding a little as if he liked the bite he'd taken. Now that she thought about it there were two types of those cream filled ones. One had better, sweeter filling than the other. Christopher liked those best. He liked the other ones, too, but not as much. She didn't know the difference to choose the sweeter one.

"He's a big boy."

"He is," she shrugged.

"Where do you go to school?"


"He said last week you were in college."

"Oh. University of Iowa." He nodded as if he knew that already. Maybe he did. Why would he ask then?


"Business and English."

"Interesting combination."

"I want to go to law school afterward."


"To be a lawyer," she said. Wasn't that obvious?

"What kind?"

"The good kind?"

He scoffed at that. "I've never met too many of those."

"Well, I have. My father's a lawyer and I like to think he's a good one."

"You're biased. Name one who isn't your dad?"

"My brother," she said.

"No different."

"I don't know what to tell you."

"Everyone has to have goals, I guess."

"Was this your goal?"

"It was," he admitted. "Wasn't always Dawson's Garage. The building's been one for years, though. Nothing else would really work in here. A factory or warehouse of some sort maybe. Anyway. My old man died, left me some money I didn't know was coming to me. The guy I was working for wanted out. He sold it to me. Here I am."

"When did you start working here?"

"Officially? I was sixteen. I started coming around when I was around eleven, though."


"It was either that or be out on the streets. Jackson, the guy who sold the place to me, he didn't mind my coming around. He started having me do things like sweep the floors and put tools away, clean the bathroom and stuff like that. Eventually, he had me help him do things like change a tire and I watched him do everything I could."

"When did you buy it?"

"When I was nineteen."

"Really? How old was the guy you bought it from?"

"He was in his fifties by the time I bought it. No kids who were interested in getting dirty every day so I guess he was glad to see it go to someone who gave a shit, even if I changed the name."

"Does he ever come see you?"

"Sometimes. Not in a while. He moved down to Florida. He comes back up once in a while to see his grandkids, he'll stop in."

"That's nice."

"I won't lie and deny he probably saved my life."


"Gangs. Getting into trouble. Drugs. Ending up in jail or dead."

"At eleven?"

"Younger than that if you show an aptitude for something. These days I see them as young as eight and nine manning the corners, looking out for narcs. Some of them it's because their parents were in that life and they just don't know any better. Some like having cash in their pocket they wouldn't get from Mom or Dad."

"God," she said. She had no idea. She never knew anyone who had to worry about stuff like that. John was probably the most abnormal person she knew, not that she knew him real well or anything.

"John says he's good with cars. If he's working here I'm guessing you are, too."

"He's not bad," he said. Claire suspected that was as close to a compliment John's boss came to giving out. "I'm better than not bad."

She rolled her eyes, adjusting her scarf a little because she was starting to get warm now that she was sitting here.

"Anyway…" she said. She should really go and quit taking up his time.

"I won't see John until Wednesday. He's off tomorrow. If I didn't know better I'd swear he was using his daughter as an excuse to get a long weekend."

"He wouldn't do that," she said, closing her eyes. Why was she defending him? Dawson evidently noticed it too because he laughed.

"I know he wouldn't. It's the only reason I hired him."

"What reason was that?"

"He actually needed the job. I've tried to hire people who want a job but don't really need one. It's never worked out. They get lazy after a while."

"I see."

"You probably don't. I don't get the impression you've had to struggle to put food on your table over the years. It is what it is, though."

"I guess."

"So this party that you were inviting John to. Was it a date thing?"

"No, I already told you he's not my boyfriend. I'm not here to start drama at your garage. I honestly just thought he wouldn't have his daughter and might want to come."

"He doesn't strike me as the type to hang out with the same people you do."

"We're not in high school anymore."

"By what? Like six months? People's memories aren't that short, honey."

"I was just trying to be nice."

"I'm sure he'd appreciate the gesture if he was here."

"I'm not sure he would. I just thought I'd tell him about it."

She really wasn't sure at all what John would think about her telling him about the party. He probably had something better to do anyway. Then again, if he was off tomorrow, too maybe he'd have Holly tonight and tomorrow night.

"So do you have a date for it then?"


"Would you like one?"

"I'm sorry?" What was he asking her? Surely she wasn't hearing him correctly.

"I'm pretty sure you heard me."

"No, I don't want John to be there as my date. I already said that!"

"I wasn't talking about John this time."

"And you think John won't fit in," she said, eyeing him.

He was. Well. He was like nothing anyone in Shermer had ever seen before. She was pretty confident of that. Try as she might since she'd been sitting here talking to him she couldn't keep her eyes off of him. He was very nice looking and in incredible shape. Somehow she didn't think that came just from working here. He must do something to stay that way. His hair was too long. Oh sure guys she went to school with had longer hair, past their collars or whatever, but not like Dawson's. And she was pretty sure there were women who'd pay a lot of money to have their hair dyed the color of his. It was an absolutely gorgeous shade of blond.

"Try me," he said.

"You really want to go to a party full of college people?"

He shrugged. "Maybe I'm bored."

"Somehow I doubt that."

"Maybe I think you're attractive. Attractive women don't cross my path very frequently. I have to take advantage of it when it happens."

"I find that ridiculously hard to believe. Women probably bring you their cars all of the time."

"Oh, they do, and they look at me – and your friend John – like we're no better than the hired help, a means to an end. I'm sure you know the look. You've probably given it a time or two in your life."

She had.

"Why would you want to go with me then if you think I'm like that?"

"I don't think, honey, I know. I don't know if you'll ever come back here. You'll leave for Iowa here pretty soon and probably forget about ol' John and whatever brought you here last week. So, either ask now or I don't get another chance."

She opened her mouth to say no. She really did. She had absolutely no business saying yes to him. Yet. What would it hurt? It was a date. It wasn't a commitment or anything. She was entitled to have dates. She was obligated to have them in a way. Her parents would do cartwheels if they thought she had a date for New Year's Eve. Okay, they'd probably stop doing cartwheels when they saw him at their door.

"You don't have kids, do you?" she asked.

He arched a brow at that, sipping his coffee.

"You have something against kids?" he asked.

"No, just thinking about my parents."

"I see. And meeting them would happen because?"

"You ask me out on a date you come to my house and pick me up like any respectable guy would."

"Fair enough. The kids?"

"My mom sort of freaked out that I knew someone with a kid."

"Ah," he said, seeming to understand. She was pretty sure her mom had images of John trying to get her pregnant, too, even though that would never happen. She didn't want to be pregnant any more than John would want another kid. "No," he said. "That's really the only factor in deciding whether to accept?"

"No," she said.

"What other factors are there?"

"My friends."


"I think they'll wonder what planet I found you on."

He chuckled at that. "Whatever planet you want to tell them you found me on, honey."

"My name's Claire."

"Claire then," he said.

Had he really not even known her name? And she was contemplating going out on a date with him? Being alone with him for hours? He'd expect a kiss at midnight, too. That's what dates did on New Year's Eve. She blushed deeply at that thought for some reason.

"I didn't realize saying your name had that effect on you," he said with a low chuckle. "I assume whatever you were just thinking about was something good."

"It was," she admitted.

She stood then, grabbing a pen from his desk before she could think too hard on her doing this. She wrote her address and phone number on a blank piece of paper underneath the pen.

"If you're not there by nine o'clock, I'm leaving without you."

"I will be there by then."

"Okay," she said.

"And thanks for the coffee and donuts. You sure you don't want one to take with you?"

"No, I'm fine." She did take the cup of coffee she'd anticipated being for her though. He stood then, surprising her by walking her to her car the same as John did last week.

"Is it really that bad here?"

"It's pretty rough," he said.

"But it's still morning."

"School's out for the week, not that that matters because many of them don't even go anymore."

"Well, thank you."

"Sure. I'll see you tonight, right?"

"That's up to you, I guess."

"Oh, unless the address is a fake one."

"You can call John and ask him if it's real."

He chuckled softly at that. "Somehow I'm not sure he'd appreciate me doing that."

"Why not?" she asked with a frown.

"Never mind, honey. You go on with your day. I'll be there by nine."

"My name's Claire!"

He chuckled a bit at that and she realized he'd done it this time deliberately. She was such an idiot.

The wrecker was driven onto the parking lot as she was leaving. She watched in her rearview mirror as Dawson and the other guy stood talking to each other. They were obviously watching her drive away. She was used to looks from people for her car, but they'd both already seen her car so she wasn't sure why they'd keep staring at it.


"Why are you so jumpy, Claire?"

"I'm not," Claire said.

She was so hoping her parents would be gone soon. That was why she'd told John's boss nine o'clock. Her parents had gone to the party at their country club every year for as long as Claire could remember. Tonight was no different, they were just taking their time about leaving. If they were already gone they wouldn't have to meet him and her mom wouldn't freak out about her having a date with someone in his twenties.

"Well, whatever the reason you drive safe tonight."

"I will. I'm not driving anyway. A friend of mine is picking me up."

"Not the same friend who came here last week?"

"No. Why?"

"Because you don't need to be mixed up with people like that."

"People like what, Mother?"

"Irresponsible people."

"People make mistakes, Mom."

"Mistakes don't result in children, Claire."

She rolled her eyes at that. Mistakes very often resulted in children. Maybe those people weren't sixteen, but they still happened. Claire's friend Janis at college was twenty years younger than her next closest sibling. Her parents had had their oldest two kids when they were eighteen and twenty. Nineteen years later they evidently got the surprise of their life when they found out they were pregnant with Janis. They loved her, wanted her, and were married and everything, but she was still a mistake. She wasn't supposed to have happened.

"As long as it's not him. Besides, I'm not worried about you, but other people drive when they shouldn't be."

"I know, Mom, I'll be fine. It's not like the party is in another town or anything."

"You look nice."

"Thank you," Claire said, glad her mom said so. She'd put more thought into what she'd wear tonight than she expected to. She wasn't sure why she was trying to impress him. He'd asked her out probably to see if she'd say yes. He might not even show up having all day to think on it. Either way, she'd go back to school soon and wouldn't have any reason to talk to him again.

Her parents left about fifteen minutes before he was supposed to be there. That was good. If her mom didn't like John she sure as hell wouldn't like Dawson. He was older. How much older Claire wasn't sure, but he had to be in his early to mid-twenties. He hadn't said how long ago it was he bought the garage.

He eyed her when she opened the door. She almost didn't. She contemplated it for about two minutes before finally giving in.

"Do you ever wear pants?"

"No," she said with a frown.


She shrugged. "I don't like them?"

"Fair enough."

"You don't like my dress?" she asked. She went through great pains picking it out. She wanted to wear something nice, worthy of a date without being too nice to give him the wrong idea.

"I didn't say that." That wasn't really an answer. It'd be kind of funny if she went through the effort and he didn't even like what she picked out.

"So, no parents to give me the third degree?"

"No, they had their own party to go to."

"I see," he said. "Is that why you told me nine o'clock?"

"Yes," she admitted. There was no reason to lie.

"Very nice."

"What? They don't need to know everything I do. And if they knew you were as much older than me as you are. Well, I'm not sure they'd let me go."

"Why not? Women date older men all the time."

"How old are you?"

"Wow. If I asked you that question I'd probably get slapped."

"You know how old I am."

"Fair enough. I'm twenty-one."

"Yeah, I'm not sure that'd fly."

"Well, we'd better go then before they come back."

"They won't be back for hours."

"No curfew for you then?"

"Not really," she said, grabbing her coat from the closet next to the door. She never really had a curfew. Her parents trusted her for the most part so they assumed she'd be home around one o'clock unless something special was going on. She hadn't gotten home until close to three o'clock in the morning Sunday after Penny's wedding. New Year's Eve would count as something special, too.

She grabbed her purse and then thought twice about taking it, grabbing just her keys instead.

"You have a pocket these can go in?" she asked.

"Sure," he said, taking them. He glanced at them. "I don't suppose I could talk you into taking your car."

"You want me to drive?"

"No. I want to drive your car."

"Oh," she said. "You're not going to get drunk and argue with me about driving home later if I think I should, are you?"

"No. I have to go back to the city, remember? I'm not an idiot."

"Sure," she said.

"Really? I was kind of joking."

"Why not? You fix cars for a living, so you must drive other people's cars to test drive them."


"What are you going to do with mine while I'm in it?"

"Nothing, just drive it and wish it was six months from now or we were living in Florida."


"So I could put the top down."

"Yeah, I'm not doing that tonight." She locked the front door behind him then and led him through the kitchen to the laundry room and the garage. She opened the garage door, shutting the door behind them.

"You must be a very good daughter."

"I try," she said.

She knew when he saw her mom's BMW, which was virtually identical to her dad's. Hers was red, though.

"I guess your dad is a good lawyer."

"He does well," she admitted.

He followed her directions to the house they were going to. They had to park a ways away since they were getting there a little later than most people arrived.

"What is your name, anyway?" she asked.


"I just realized I only know you as Dawson."

"That's what everyone calls me."

"Yes, but you have to have a first name. I can't introduce you to my friends as Dawson."

"Why not?"

She sighed softly.

"Erik," he said simply.

"Thank you."

"Sure, but Dawson works just as well. Who's going to know it's not my first name?"

"Because it'd be a weird first name."

"Maybe I had weird parents."

"Where's your mom?"

"What?" he asked.

"You mentioned your dad died, but what about your mom?"

"Oh. She's still around."

"In Chicago?"


"Do you see her?"

"When I can. She's my mom, you know, I'm not married and have no real prospects and with my dad gone for years now she seems to think her life is flashing before her eyes. No grandkids somehow means she's failed me somehow."

"You're only twenty-one."

"I try and tell her this, but there's no convincing her."

"That's so young!"

"I couldn't agree more."

She opened the door when they got there. There would be no use ringing the doorbell because it wouldn't be heard from the noise of the party. Besides. She'd been to Linda's house so many times over the years walking in wasn't anything new.

"I can take your coat," she said, shrugging out of hers before heading upstairs. He gave her his but didn't move from where she'd left him to put their coats in the bedroom that always served as the coat room.

"Don't want to venture in on your own."

"I don't think I've been around this many people in a long time."

"You said you wanted to come. What did you think I meant when I said party?"

"Oh, I don't know. I wasn't expecting this."

"Everyone's home from school so everyone is here."

"Except John."

"I guess so."

"Not in your group of friends I guess."

"Not really."

"Yet, he's your friend."

"Sort of. I wouldn't say he's really my friend. We know one another."

"Did you hear from him today?"

"No. Why would I?"

He shrugged. "Just curious."

"No. Obviously I don't know how to get a hold of him if I came to where he works twice now."

"I consider myself lucky that's the case."

She laughed softly at that, shaking her head a bit at that. "I think you're a little crazy, but let's go mingle."

She tried to introduce him to people. Some were genuinely nice to him, most were barely polite, though. She knew the tone and the look that went with it. Polite curiosity. Faux politeness so they wouldn't seem rude to her guest.

He did find a couple of guys to talk cars with so she sort of left him in their hands as she went and walked around, talking to people. Some people she'd seen Saturday at Penny and Bobby's wedding. Some she hadn't, though.

"Where's Erik?" she asked her friend Cindy.

"Uh, I saw him go outside with Brady and Marshall."

"Really?" she asked.

She went outside, found them down the street a little near Brady's car. He had an older Mustang, which was a nice car but he always seemed to have problems with it.

"Brady," she said when she got to the car. She should have grabbed her coat before coming outside, but she hadn't figured they'd be so far down the street.

"Hey Claire."

"Why are you having my date work on your car at a party?"

"He offered, man, I swear."

"He's right," Erik said.

"Really?" she asked.

He shrugged. "What can I say? I love cars. I'm just looking at something he was told needs to be replaced. I haven't touched anything or gotten all dirty. Don't worry."

"I wasn't worried," she said and he smirked a bit at that. He was teasing her! And she walked right into it. God.

He pulled out his wallet and a business card. "You give me a call and I promise you I'll fix it for far less than any quotes from around here you've gotten."

"You're serious?"

"Sure. You can just bring it in, too. The address is on the card. I'm there before seven o'clock every morning."

"Thanks, man," Brady said, taking the card.

"Now can I have my date back?"

"Sure, Claire, sorry," Brady and Marshall said in unison.

"Did you miss me or something?" he asked when they were walking back toward the house.

"I wondered where you went."

"Thought I'd steal your car?"

"If you didn't have access to better cars than mine on a daily basis I probably would think that, yes."

"What were you thinking?"

She shrugged. "Just wondered where you went."

"Where or who?"


"Your friend, Sherry, is quite friendly."

"Oh God. She came onto you? I'm sorry."

"No worries. I can honestly say I'd never expect the words that came out of her mouth to come from someone at a party like this."

"What did you say?"

"I told her that she'd have to clear my doing those things with her with you first."

"Really?" she asked.

"Yes, really. Your friends there," he said, gesturing to Brady and Marshall. "They seemed to recognize I needed rescuing and brought up his car."

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have left you alone for so long."

"No worries. I'm a big boy, I can handle myself."

"Yes, but you asked to be my date."

"I invited myself. I'm still not sure why you said yes."

"Why not?"

"Because you don't strike me at all like your friend Sherry."


He chuckled at that.

"Is that what you want?" she asked. "Someone like Sherry? Because, yeah, that's not me."

"I've had my share of someone's like Sherry. No thanks."

"Is that why you asked me out?"


"Because I'm not like Sherry?"

"I told you. I think you're attractive. You showed up at the garage, John wasn't there. It doesn't hurt to take advantage of the situation and ask. John, my wrecker driver, said thanks for the coffee by the way."

"No, I guess it doesn't. He didn't get any donuts?"

"I think I may have forgotten to tell him about the donuts."

"Very nice."

"Well, hey, you know, they were good. And well, taking advantage got me here tonight so obviously it worked out."

"Yes, where you're having such a great time."

"It's not bad."

"Where would you have gone otherwise?"

"A bar."

"By yourself?"

"Yeah. There's one by my house that I go to after work or whenever. It's walking distance so I can just stumble home when I'm done."

She smirked a bit at that. Somehow she couldn't picture him stumbling, or getting drunk enough to where that'd be an issue. Then what did she know?

"And this is better?"

"Sure. I can at least say I did something."

It wasn't bad after that for some reason. Before that she wasn't exactly sure what to do with him. She'd never gone to a party with a date before. Not a real one, like someone asked her to go like this. She'd gone to parties with her date after dances, but that was about the extent of it. Otherwise if a guy asked her she always said she wasn't sure whether she'd be there and she'd see him there if she showed.

Driving home with him was weird. He'd given her a kiss at midnight, but it wasn't a kiss like she'd expected he'd try to give her. It was just a kiss. She'd say one like she'd give her brother, but that wasn't right. Perhaps he was just being polite. She had no idea. She was grateful because she certainly didn't want to make out with him in front of her friends or anything.

"So you're really going to fix Brady's car for him?"

"If he brings it to me, sure I will. I hate seeing people get ripped off. He said his dad knows nothing about cars so he's kind of on his own bringing it somewhere and trusting they're steering him in the right direction."

"That's nice of you, thank you."

"I'm not doing it to be nice. It's a car to work on. A nice car. He takes care of it. Hopefully, he'll tell other people and it goes from there."

"Well, it's still nice of you."

"Whatever you want to think."

Going by the lights on (or not on) at the house she knew her parents weren't home when they got back. He walked her to the door, but made no effort to come in or ask to come in. How odd. She wasn't sure what she was expecting. He was older. She was expecting him to be all over her she guessed.

"Do you have a phone number at school?"

"I do," she said. That surprised her. "You want it?"


"I, sure," she said, unlocking the door. She stepped inside then, flipping on the foyer light and reached for her purse. She always kept a small pad of paper in there. She was always thinking of things when she was somewhere inconvenient or in her car.

She wrote her number down for him, tearing off the sheet before putting the paper and pen back. She'd given him her number here at the house with her address earlier so she didn't have to again.

"So, you and John," he said.

"He's not my boyfriend!"

"Oh, I believe you. He wants to be, though."

"Shut up. He does not. He doesn't even like me!"

He scoffed. "You don't know men very well."

"He doesn't like me!"

"Okay. Well, I tell you what." He pulled his wallet out and handed her a business card like he'd done to Brady. "If he hasn't called you within a few days I owe you fifty dollars."

"I'm sorry?"

"You heard me. You call me and I'll owe you fifty dollars."

"I don't want your money." She panicked then. "You did this because of John?"

"Oh, no, I saw an opportunity and I took it. I know when interest isn't returned though."

"I'm not interested in John!"

"Sure, because anyone who isn't interested in someone comes to my garage's neighborhood not once but twice."


"Yeah. I'm not going to say anything to him, but chances are between Pruitt and your friend if he brings his car to me, he'll find out."

"I don't want him to think… I really was just trying to be nice."

"If you want to tell yourself that, Claire."

He leaned down and gave her a kiss, much like the one at the party. Certainly there was no implication behind it.

"I saw the way he looked at you."

"How was that?"

"Like he's kissed you better than that and would like to again."

She blushed then. She couldn't help it. He was still the only guy she'd actually kissed. Real kissing. She'd kissed people like she'd just kissed Erik, but that wasn't the same thing at all.

"Yeah, see. Maybe you want me to tell him."

"No! He can't come here again."

"Why not?"

"My mom," she shook her head. "She heard me talking to my dad about him, possibly needing some help getting custody of his daughter if he decides to."

"Ah, so she doesn't want the young dad anywhere near her daughter."

"Pretty much."

"Well, you want to go out again sometime before you go back to school, give me a call. Otherwise, maybe I'll surprise you and call you."

"You could. I wouldn't hang up on you or anything."

"At least I have the tools to do it now."

"You are so odd," she said.

He chuckled at that, opening the front door. "Nah, life's just too short. I had to try, though, you know. Women like you don't walk into my garage every day let alone twice in a week. It's pretty clear you like someone else, though."

"You never know, you know. One might."

"I'm not counting on that happening, but thanks."

"Hey," she asked.


"Thank you."

"For what?"

"Coming out here tonight, going to the party, and not being an asshole and trying to grope me or anything."

"Oh, I won't deny those thoughts didn't cross my mind when I mentioned it earlier, but I only had to spend about ten minutes with you to know that wasn't your thing."

"No, it's not."

"Good night then, Claire. Good luck at school."

"Thanks," she said.

She stood at the door, watching as he walked to his car. She closed the door only once he'd pulled off her driveway. He was completely insane thinking John would care she went out with him, but it was kind of fun thinking that he might. He certainly didn't seem to notice her much otherwise.

Return to Top

***Chapter Four***
Word Count: 7,707

"He might quit if he finds out you know," Pruitt said.

Dawson shrugged. "He's not going to quit over that. And I assume he'll find out."

"I think you underestimate the kind of guy he is. He didn't like you asking about her."

"I haven't underestimated the kind of guy he is at all. Can you really blame me for trying?"

"Well, put like that if I was twenty years younger…"

"Twenty?" Dawson said with a low laugh.

"Well, on a good day," he said, holding up his bad hand. "You know, I'd have other disadvantages keeping me out of favor anyway."

"Only because you let them. I certainly didn't expect her to say yes when I asked, but figured asking was better than not asking. When's the next time someone like that's going to fall into my lap?"

Pruitt laughed heartily at that. In Dawson's eyes, Pruitt put up with too much from his wife. He stayed because he thought there was no chance of anything better out there. Dawson supposed he could be right, but man getting treated like shit and walked all over couldn't be all it was cracked up to be either. Pruitt's wife was no great catch as far as he was concerned either. Then Dawson wasn't much into disloyalty and she was pretty much the epitome of that.

"Hey, John," Pruitt said, glancing behind Dawson to the door. "How's your daughter?"

"Uh, fine. She had an ear infection. The way she was screaming in the middle of the night, though."

"Her first one?"

"Yes," John said. "Well, that I know of anyway."

"Yeah, those ear infections in the little ones can be pretty bad. They can't tell you what's wrong they just know it hurts. Glad she's okay."

"You need to see a receipt from the doctor or anything?" John asked when Dawson glanced at him.

"Nah, if it happens again over a holiday that extends your weekend by a couple of days I might."

"All right," he said.

"Glad she's all right," Dawson said.

He'd seen her once, his daughter. The mom brought her here for some ridiculous reason. He thought his friend Claire was crazy for coming here. She was an adult, though, bringing a cute little white girl to this neighborhood was bordering on insanity. Kid looked just like her old man and from what he could tell about the mother while not bad looking it was good she took after John instead of her.

"Thanks," John said.


"Did you do anything for New Year's Eve then, John?" Pruitt asked.

"Uh, no. Just stayed in with my daughter. Her mom wanted to go out. I didn't have anywhere in particular to go anyway."

"Really? Your friend came by here on Monday to invite you to a party," Pruitt said.

John frowned at that.

"My friend?" he asked.

"Yeah, you know, the girl from last week," Dawson said. "The one with the nice…"

"Dawson," Pruitt cautioned.

"Car. I was going to say car." It was a nice car. Her dad obviously paid someone good money to keep it running well because he couldn't find a flaw with the thing in the short while he'd driven it.

"She came here on Monday?"

"She did," Dawson said.

"I told her not to come back here. Is she dense?"

"I don't think being dense is her problem, no," Erik said.

"Like you'd know."

"Well, since you weren't here I offered to take her to the party instead. Four hours with someone gives you a pretty good take on whether they're dense. She wants to be a lawyer so she has to be pretty smart I'd think."

"Great," John said. "I hope you had a better time than I would've had at her parties. I couldn't stand most of those people in school."

"It wasn't bad not that I saw too much of it," he said with a wink at Pruitt.

"I guess I don't need to ask if you got your kiss at midnight then." Pruitt asked.

"I'm not even sure we knew when it was midnight."

"Dawson. You're supposed to treat women like her nicely," Pruitt said.

"I was nice! Ask her. She had no complaints when I took her home."

"Like I'll ever see her to ask," Pruitt said.

"You know other women whose parties you don't want to go to, John, you send them my way. I'm happy to help."

John walked away then.

Pruitt shook his head and stood from his chair on the other side of the desk.

"Well, I best get to work. Cars aren't going to drive themselves in here. I kind of liked the coffee she brought on Monday. Maybe you shouldn't send this one away so fast, Dawson."

"See you later," Dawson said, standing from the desk, too.

"You think the kid's going to bring his car here?" Pruitt asked.

"I don't see why he wouldn't. I told him I'd fix it for less than anything he'd been quoted out there. They were taking advantage of the guy."

"Like you've never done it."

"Only to assholes," Dawson said. Sure, he'd inflated his prices a time or two to people who were dicks to him or just in general. He was only human, but he didn't take advantage of guys who were actually trying to take decent care of a nice car.

"The kid going to vouch for your twist on the night's events?"

"He was pretty drunk by the time midnight rolled around. I'm not sure he'd be able to refute what I was implying no."

"You be careful. You may not want to poke a stick at him too much more this morning."

"He can't hurt me."

"No, but you'd hate to lose him. I know you'd never admit that, but he's a good worker. He's here on time and he's never called in before this week."

"I know," Dawson said. It was true. It sure helped take the load off him having the help. He'd tried before, giving some kids around here the chance as he'd been given. He'd gotten ripped off or cheated in the process. When John came around he'd given up hope of ever finding anyone trustworthy.

It was around eleven when the guy from the party pulled his car onto the lot. Dawson was quick to head downstairs as soon as he saw it. It was a hard car to miss. Whoever the guy had bought the Mustang from had taken good care of it and the guy was trying to do the same thing with his investment. It was nice to see.

John looked up from what he was doing. Of course Dawson wasn't around anywhere so he had to stop what he was in the middle of and handle the intake. He hated dealing with customers. Especially this morning.

She'd come here again. And she'd accepted an offer of a date from his boss. What the fuck was that? Never mind what the fuck it was. Why the fuck did it bother him immensely? He and John were talking about her as if she was just another piece of ass, which was when John had to leave the office.

"Hi," John said.

"Hey, don't I know you?"

"Me?" John said, regarding the guy. He looked vaguely familiar. "Maybe."

"You went to Shermer High, right? Graduated this spring? I'm Brady Ferguson."

"Sure," John nodded. John knew the name, but he was in Claire's crowd. "You need your car worked on?"

"Yeah, dude. I saw your boss Monday and he gave me his card, said he'd hook me up with a fair price."

"Monday night?" John asked. He had to ask. He had no business asking or even caring. He had to know though if somehow Dawson wasn't bullshitting, putting him on.

"Yeah, at Linda Montrose's party, man. He was there with Claire. Claire Standish. Did she meet him through you, man?"

"I, I don't know how they met," he said, admitting why Claire would know he worked here would be admitting more than John wanted to right now. It would certainly suggest to Brady that he and Claire were friends, which was something he was pretty sure Claire wouldn't appreciate. "Maybe she's brought her car here. Our wrecker driver maybe towed it here for her or something."

"Okay, well, anyway, he told me to bring it in. He said he got here before seven o'clock, but that was too early for me this morning."

John shook his head a bit at that. No doubt Brady had been out partying last night. As far as John knew he was at school like the rest of Claire's friends.

"Long night?" John asked.

"Dude. You have no idea. I got with Christy Benson Monday night and I didn't get home until about two o'clock this morning."

"Linda's party must have been pretty intense then?"

"Tell me about it. You should've been there, man. It was awesome. It was New Year's Eve so all the single chicks weren't quite as prudish as other days."

John rolled his eyes. "And Claire was with my boss?"

"Oh, yeah, thick as thieves. For a while they weren't, like when they first got there but I think he was just letting her do her prom queen thing. You know? She was pretty pissed off he was outside looking at my car with me, though, and then after that I don't think she let him out of her sight."


"You remember Sherry Albright?"

"Uh sure," he said. Who didn't remember Sherry? John was pretty sure he was the only one male member of the senior class she hadn't successfully hit on at some point during their four years of high school. He'd heard rumors that she was pretty…creative.

"She was all over him and he totally blew her off, told her she needed to get Claire's permission for him to do those things with her." Brady chuckled. "That's when Marshall and I brought up my car. The dude was clearly not wanting to get with anyone else. You know? So, I asked him if he could look at it. And here I am."

"Great," John said. "How lucky for you. I'll be right back then."

He went to the office to get the paperwork he'd need to fill out to take in the car. He sure wished Dawson was back here by now, but he wasn't so John did it. He'd done this before. His boss took lunch and like now just was absent once in a while.

"All right," John said. "We'll call you before we actually work on it with an estimate."

"Okay, cool, thanks. Good seeing you, man."

"You have a ride back home?" John asked.

"I do," he said, gesturing to the van waiting outside. "My buddy Marshall. It's his band van. He hauls his band's gear in it."

"Vans are good for that, yeah," John said. He wasn't sure he knew Marshall. The name didn't sound familiar, but who knew.

"Thanks, man," Brady said.

"Sure," he said.

Fuck. Could this day get any worse? He'd dropped Holly off at Betty's house and her parents had bitched at him that he hadn't called them Sunday night instead of bringing her to the doctor Monday morning. They hadn't realized until he explained to them that the screaming hadn't started until well into the middle of the night. By the time he realized Tylenol wasn't working it was pretty close to her doctor's office being open so he just took her there versus the ER. Then Betty was bitching about some crazy shit he couldn't wrap his mind around. He'd had Holly Friday night through Wednesday morning. She was upset that her usual Wednesday plans were blown because John wasn't taking her tonight, too. Sometimes he wondered if she really wanted to be a mom, or if now that Holly was walking and stuff she realized it was actually work and didn't want to bother anymore. He could only hope that was the case when he got around to talking to Claire's dad.

He still couldn't believe she'd done that.

To what end? He couldn't figure it out. He thought she was giving him some hints that she was interested. She kissed him last week. Okay, it was on the cheek, but he certainly hadn't expected to come here this week after that and hear she had a date with his boss.

The images that conjured up were kind of unnerving. His boss was a pretty good looking guy, even John had to admit that. Tall, muscular, and pretty nice hair. He wasn't the nicest guy in the world, but that didn't seem to prevent him from getting laid. Regularly. He listened to the conversations he and John had even though they didn't seem to think he paid them any attention. He just tried to stay out of things because they were clearly friends, had a history that John just didn't quite understand. He didn't have friends like that. He had people he hung out with, during high school he had people he got high with or drunk with, but he didn't have people he just sat and talked to.

So had she changed in the past eight months from the person who'd never kissed anyone but him to going out with guys like Dawson who couldn't keep it in his pants for more than a few days at a time? Brady hadn't said they'd disappeared to a bedroom together, but that didn't mean they didn't.


Dawson appeared about fifteen minutes after Brady left.

"Oh good, he brought the Mustang in."

"Yeah," John said. "Paperwork's on the dash."

"Thanks. You want to work on it?"

"Sure, I can look at it when I'm done here."

"What was his name again?"

"Brady," John said.

"That's right. Nice guy. Different than most of the other guys there the other night."

"Yeah, he's not bad," John had to admit. The fact Brady even noticed he knew John was pretty astounding for someone in Claire's crowd.

"Most of her girlfriends wouldn't even look at me."

John scoffed. "You're lucky they let you in the door."

"That bad?"

"You have no idea."

"Why would she want to invite you then?"

"I have no idea," John said.

"Did you date her?"

"No," he said quickly.



"You sure?"

"I think I'd remember dating her."

"Just making sure."

"It's a little late for that, isn't it? You already went out with her."

"Come on. You wouldn't have done the same thing in my shoes? You weren't here. She brought coffee and donuts. She insisted you weren't her boyfriend."

"She insisted correctly."

"I didn't see an issue."

"There is no issue."

"Okay then."

"She's not a slut, though," John said.


"You heard me. Don't treat her like one. She's not like that at all."

"You sure about that?"

"Positive," John said, though he wasn't so positive anymore. A lot could certainly have changed. For all he knew she lost her virginity on prom night the same as ninety-nine percent of the other high school seniors did.

"Thanks for the tip."

He walked to his office then, leaving John to mutter to himself. He had not been offering him a tip! He wasn't trying to offer him any incentive to see if she was or wasn't that type of girl. The last thing he wanted was to picture them doing anything. Kissing was bad enough. Christ.


Worst day of work ever. He kept watching Dawson for any indication it was a joke at his expense. He had to admit, the guy was pretty astute for not doing more than graduate high school. John got the impression he'd barely done that. He wasn't dumb, though. Unlike John, Dawson had had something to fall back on. John hadn't had anything so going to school had been important. He knew he'd need the diploma if he wanted to do shit when it came to Holly. He'd thought about going to community college next fall, but he had no idea how he'd juggle a job, Holly, and school. People did it, though, he knew that. He'd have to figure that out, though.

It didn't seem like a joke, though. How would he have known Brady to bring him in on the joke?

So that left John with the realization that he apparently meant shit to her if she'd accept a date from his boss when she'd come here asking him to do something.

Then he hadn't given her any way to contact him. He hadn't realized she'd need or even want to.


He drove to her house again, knowing it was an absolutely terrible idea. Her mom had already slammed the door in his face once. His showing up again would probably send her into a fit. He stopped at home first to change into something that didn't make it obvious he worked at a garage.

It was her dad this time who answered and he was hugely relieved. John was tempted to talk to her father here and now, but he knew now wasn't the time.

"Is Claire home?"

"Yes. Would you like to come in?"

"Sure," John said, stepping inside.

"Is she expecting you?"

"No, sir," he said. "I was just in the neighborhood."

"Okay. Just a moment. I'll get her."

"Thanks," he said.

Now that he was here he had no idea what he was actually going to say to her that didn't come out sounding like he was a jealous fool or a raving lunatic. Both probably applied at least partially. He wasn't a violent guy. He had the image in high school of being a huge bad ass, but he couldn't stomach fighting unless it was the absolute last resort. He'd been on the receiving end of enough beatings in his lifetime to tide him over into the next lifetime and probably the next one after that. He had, however, wanted to slug his boss this morning. The only reason he hadn't? He needed the job. A few more months under his belt and he could look at another garage a little closer to Shermer and in not so shitty of a neighborhood. He needed the experience and the reference, though. Decking his boss was not a way to get a good reference he imagined. So, he'd refrained for Holly's sake.

"John," she said. "Hi. How are you?"

"Good," he said.

"Good," she said. "We should probably go…"

"Who's at the door?"

It was her mom. Of course it was. He couldn't be so lucky as to not encounter her tonight, too. Claire winced, clearly not happy. At him being here or her mom seeing he was here? It didn't really matter.

"Oh," she said, disdain and complete distaste evident in that one word.

"I'll be outside for a while Mom."

"How long?"

"Mother," she said. "We're just going to get some ice cream."

"It's January."

"Baskin Robbins is open in January."

"Erik called while you were in the shower," she said.

Claire winced again.

"I'm sorry we didn't get to meet him Monday."

"So am I Mom," she said.

"He seems very polite."

John scoffed softly at that. Claire heard him, her mom evidently did not.

"He can be," Claire said. "I'll call him back later."

"Don't forget. I told him you didn't have plans tonight."

"You shouldn't be telling people things you don't know are true for sure."

"You didn't tell me you did."

"You didn't ask! I'll be back," she said, grabbing her coat from the closet.

"I'm so sorry," she said once they were by his car.

"You seem to like apologizing to me for your mom's behavior."

"Yeah, well, she was rude."

"I get it."

"I don't. She's not usually that crazy with my friends."

"Yeah, well, none of your other friends have a kid and show up at your door all of a sudden."


"Did you really want to get ice cream?"

"I just wanted to get out of there," she said. "I really am sorry."

"You don't have other plans?"

"No," she said.

"No dates?"


"I heard you had one Monday."

"I did," she admitted.

"You don't see a problem with that?" he asked.

"What? Going on a date?"

"With my boss?"

"Why? He asked."

"You came there looking for me!"

"I wasn't asking you out on a date."

"What were you doing then?"

"I just wasn't sure you were going to be doing anything. I was going to tell you about the party." She frowned. "You assumed I was looking for a date with you?"

"Well, it's not like we ever traveled in the same circles so it was a little strange."

"I was just trying to be nice, I swear! Erik didn't believe me either."

John scoffed at that.

"Dawson wants into your pants."

"And you don't?"

"Uh, wow, where the hell did that come from?"

"Can we just get out of here?"

"You still want to?"

"My mom is standing at a window watching us. I really don't want to talk about this on my driveway with my mom watching."

"Fine," he said, getting into his car. She did the same.

He drove her to a fast food place. They had ice cream there, but they ordered some fries and a drink, sharing them instead.

"Are you mad at me?" she asked.

"I don't really know what to feel."

"Why not?"

"You went out on a date with my boss. What the fuck am I supposed to feel about that?"

"I didn't realize you cared!"

"Of course I care."

"You do not," she said.

"Claire," he said. "He's not a very nice guy."

"He was fine Monday night."

"I'm sure."

"He was!"

"I just don't want to see you get hurt."

"Like you did, you mean?"

"I did. What the fuck are you talking about? I haven't touched you or done a damned thing to you since March! I don't know how I got drawn into the topic of hurting you."

"You did nothing!"

"What are you talking about?"

"You made no effort to talk to me."

"You didn't either, sweets."

"I wanted to."

"You could've fooled me. I walked past your locker…"

"Sure you did. You didn't say anything!"

"Because you looked at me like you couldn't be bothered!"

"Because I knew kissing someone meant shit to you."

"Actually you're pretty wrong there. I don't just kiss anyone."

"Shut up."

"I don't. I never have. I am pretty confident the night Holly came about there wasn't even a kiss involved in the process."

"So what? You kissed me and then ignored me."

"Because you were treating me like an ice queen."

She shook her head. "I've explained it already. I thought you didn't give a shit."

"That I spent a couple of hours making out with you? You think I wouldn't give a shit about that?"


"You were so wrong."

"I didn't know."

"You didn't give me the chance."

"You still wouldn't have told me about Holly," she said.

"I may have," he shrugged. He'd thought about that. "Probably not right away, no," he admitted.

"What do you want from me, John?"

"Nothing," he said, but he knew that didn't sound convincing.

"Okay. Then why show up at my house when my mom had already been rude to you once?"

"Because I don't want to see you get involved with an asshole who's going to go out with you until you give in and then move on."

"What business is it of yours?"

"Oh my God. Are you listening to yourself? You're getting mad at me for not wanting to see you get used and hurt?"

"No, I'm not. I appreciate it, I do, but I'm leaving for school again soon. How much using do you think he can do while I'm home?"

"A lot!"

"Then you don't know me as well as I thought you did."

"I don't know what you've been up to the past few months."

She sighed.

"I told you not to go back there."

"I know," she said.

"I didn't want you anywhere near him."


"Because he finds you attractive."

"Why is that bad?"

"Because I don't want to see who you go out with."

"Why not?"

"I don't know!"

She laughed then. He was glad she found this funny, he sure didn't.

"How's Holly," she asked.


"She was sick Monday, that's why you weren't at work. How is she?"

"Oh, she's all right. She has an ear infection. Some antibiotics and the doctor says she'll be good as new."


"You should've heard him talking about you."

"He couldn't have said much. We went to a party."

"You kissed him!"

"At midnight. He was my date."

"And now he's calling your house and talking to your mom."

"Guys do that."

"If she knew…"

"There's nothing to know. I'm nineteen years old. I'm single. I'm allowed to bring a date to a New Year's Eve party."

"But not with me."

"You don't like me!"

"Fuck," he whispered.


"I don't want to like you. I was doing just fine without you before seeing you at that stupid pumpkin patch. You had to talk to me."

"What was I supposed to do? Ignore you?"

"That's what your friends would have done. So, yes."

"What does that mean, John?"

"You're in fucking Iowa, hundreds of miles away and I've got a kid."


"So, I can't fucking drop everything and go see you."

"I haven't asked you to."

"But I want to!"

"I don't get it."

He shook his head and stood from the table they were sitting at. Was she deliberately being obtuse and dense? He walked to his car then and got in, waiting for her. She'd figure out eventually he wasn't coming back. He was absolutely not going to say stupid shit tonight. For all he knew she was interested in his boss. He didn't see that scenario playing out well, but he certainly couldn't stop her from dating him if she wanted to.

She came out a few minutes later with an ice cream cone. Where she got the money for it he didn't know since she didn't have her purse. Then he noticed the guy at the counter staring after her and shook his head slightly.

"You just flirted your way into a free ice cream cone, didn't you?"

"I did. I went up there with tears in my eyes."

"I didn't make you cry."

"He doesn't know that."

He chuckled softly at that. "Resourceful. I guess you got your ice cream after all."

"I sure did," she said. She held it out toward him. "Want some?"

"Of your cone?"

"Yes," she said.

He set his hand over hers and took some off the top.

"Oh come on. You can do better than that. He totally made the cone huger than he should have."

He chuckled softly and took some more.

"You're kind of weird wanting ice cream in January."

She shrugged. "I like ice cream. Sue me."

She ate more of it herself and then offered him some more. He had no idea if she was doing it intentionally or not but she sure seemed to want him focused on her mouth and he was evidently falling right for her plan.

He grabbed the cone from her, opened his window, and tossed it outside.

"Hey! I wanted that. What are you doing?" she asked as he was closing the window again.

She let out the most arousing sound when he slid his mouth over hers. He licked her lower lip, chuckling a bit at the little spot of ice cream there before finding her tongue with his. Fuck, it'd been too fucking long since he'd done this and evidently being jealous as hell that she'd gone out with someone he knew brought his need out even more.

"Please tell me you didn't kiss him like that," he whispered when he drew away.


"You're not just saying that?"


"God I love kissing you," he said.

"Me, too."

"Want to do more of it?"


"Well, no, I was thinking somewhere else. My car. My apartment. I don't think you're going to get any more free ice cream out of that guy again, though," he said. The guy had been watching his car.

She laughed softly. "Probably not."

"We were sharing French fries, he should have known you wouldn't have been able to stay mad at me long."

"Because we shared fries?"

"Yes, that's pretty serious stuff."

"So I've heard," she said.

He chuckled softly.

"Ever made out in the backseat of a car, Princess?"

"You know the answer to that."

"I do?"

"You do."

He took that to be no then.

"You want to find out if you like it?"


He chuckled softly. "You already asked me that. I said no, but my apartment isn't anywhere near to bringing you back home."

"Isn't it kind of early?"

"What do you mean?"

"We'd get caught."

"They tap on your window and tell you to move on, nothing more."

"You have experience with this?"

"Well, sure, I mean, it's been a while," he shrugged. "They're not going to arrest you we both know that."

"And your apartment is out?"

"Not really. I mean, it's just clear across town."

"I don't have a curfew."

"I have a job to go to tomorrow."

"Oh, right," she said. "We could go back and get my car."

"And your mom?"

"I'll tell her you dropped me off and that I'm going out."

"You sure you want to start lying to her?"

"Well, it's either that or I go home and listen to her tell me to call Erik."

"You know, I'm not even sure I knew he had a first name."

She laughed softly. "Doesn't he sign your paychecks?"

"I never cared enough to look!"

"You're so bad."

"I'll give you my address. You get there when you can."

"Gotta kick the other woman that's there already out?"

"No. I do want to make sure I didn't leave it a mess this morning when I left for work, though. I'm not used to having Holly for days on end like that."


"You going to blow me off?"

"No, I guess I'm curious enough to see where you live."

"That's the only thing driving you to come over?"

"Not the only thing."

"Would you tell me if he kissed you like that?"

"No one else has kissed me like that, John."

"That relieves me more than you probably want to know."

"Probably because I know you can't give me the same answer."

"I don't kiss women!"

"No, but you have Holly."

"That doesn't mean shit. You can't throw a mistake I made over two years ago in my face. I wasn't kissing her mother. I wasn't with her mother. I didn't go see you to mention a party and accept a date from her instead. I certainly wasn't with you when I fucked her."


"Sorry," he muttered. He had no idea why she made him act so mental and irrational. It was stupid.

He drove her back to her house.

"Do I, uh, need to walk you to your door or anything?"

"No," she said.

"You sure?"

"I'm positive. You do that, Mom will definitely think it was a date."

"Yeah, well, I was asking more for you than her."

"I don't need you to walk me to my door. I'll be maybe ten minutes behind you. I'm just going to tell her I'm going out."

"All right. If you change your mind," he said.

She leaned over and kissed him lightly before opening her door.

"Thanks for the fries. I'll see you in a little while."

"Yeah, sure," he said.


"Now where are you going?" her mom asked.

"Out," Claire said.

"You can't just come home and go out whenever you want."

"I can, too! It's not even eight o'clock."

Her mother had this insane rule in high school that if plans hadn't been made before nine o'clock then Claire couldn't go out. So anytime one of her friends decided at the last minute to take in a late movie or go for pizza Claire wasn't allowed to go. Her mom's rationale was if they really wanted to include Claire they'd think of her earlier. Her mom just didn't get that not everyone made plans days or hours in advance.

"I don't like him coming around here."

"He's my friend, Mom."

"You have no business being friends with people like that."

"Yes, I know, because of a mistake he made when he was sixteen he should pay for it for the rest of his life. You have no idea what happened."

"Neither do you. You weren't there. He's lying to you, saying whatever he can say to get you in the same position as that other poor girl."

"Oh my God, Mom. Are you listening to yourself? Forget what you think of him, have some faith in me. You know, your daughter? That I'm not going to get knocked up before I graduate from college."

"Claire, watch your mouth."

"Quit accusing me of being a slut and I will because that's what you're saying."

"Well, I have no idea what you do when you're not home. You're away at college where there are no rules, I'm not there for you to look in the eye when you come home from things."

"What?" Claire asked. Had her mom just said that? No way.

"Okay, I'm leaving now. I won't be home until later. Much later. I'm going to a party. Or, maybe you know, a drug-filled orgy or something since that's apparently what you think I do with my time. Don't wait up for me."

"Claire," her mom said, but Claire didn't wait around to listen to any more of her mother's crazed ramblings tonight.


How could she not know her at all? She was a good daughter. She didn't embarrass her family. She'd never been arrested or anything to humiliate her father in front of his friends or associates. She didn't sleep around. She didn't even really date. She drank some, sure, but she was responsible about it because her parents had bought her a very expensive car. She smoked the occasional joint but everyone did.

(She was pretty sure her dad had at least when he was younger. Claire had no idea if her mother did anything when she was Claire's age. There were times she was pretty sure she and her brother were adopted because she couldn't picture her mom doing it with her dad to get pregnant to begin with.)

He opened his door when she got there and she didn't even give him the chance to say anything to her. She slid her hands around his neck and kissed him before she'd even taken her coat or gloves off. He didn't seem to mind, but she could tell she'd surprised him.

She reached around his neck, tugging each of her gloves off and dropping them on the floor at their feet. She worked the buttons on his shirt with shaky fingertips. She was terrible at it. How hard could it be to unbutton someone else's shirt? Evidently more difficult than buttoning and unbuttoning her own.

"Stupid," she muttered, breaking the kiss to find his neck and slide her mouth lower to his chest as she got the buttons slowly undone. She kissed him then and for whatever inexplicable reason broke down in tears.

"Hey," he said, sliding his arms around her. "What's wrong?"


"If you don't want to be here…"

"No, that's not it."

"What then?"

"My mother."

"Oh," he said.

"She evidently thinks by spending time with you I'm going to get pregnant."

"I see," he said. She felt his arms slide out from around her then and she sighed as he stepped away from her.

"Never mind that you don't have a string of kids so it was an accident, a one-time thing. You know? It's not even that. She thinks that I'm going to do that? I mean, does she not know me at all?"

"Probably not," John said. He started working the buttons on his shirt.

"What are you doing?"

"What's it look like I'm doing?"

"But why?"

He finished buttoning it, she hadn't gotten the whole thing undone so he hadn't had to do them all or anything. He offered her his hand then, which she took. He led her to his couch.

"It's not pretty, but it's actually comfortable. And it's clean and everything," he said, looking kind of embarrassed.

"I don't care what your couch looks like," she said.

"Yeah, well, I still know who I'm dealing with."

"John," she whispered.

He kissed her almost as soon as she sat next to him on the couch. She was still mystified about him redoing his shirt, but he was kissing her right now so she didn't much care about anything else.

"I'm sorry your mom made you mad," he said much later.

"It's not your fault." He'd certainly done a stellar job of taking her mind off of the things her mother had said earlier. God, two hours ago she realized glancing at her watch. Why could she kiss him endlessly and have it seem like no time at all went by?

"It kind of is. I knew better than to go there again."

"She'll get over it."

"Apparently not if she's insulting you."

She shrugged. "It's just how she is, you know. Image is everything."

"Shouldn't the fact I'm involved with Holly say something?"

"I think Mom sees it as you ruined Holly's mother."

"I didn't do any ruining, trust me."

"Is her last name Vincent?"

"Yeah," he said, sounding cautious.

"I paged through my yearbook from freshman year."

"Really?" he said, sounding surprised.

"Yeah. There was a Betty Tompkins or something but I didn't see you sleeping with her."

"I didn't sleep with Holly's mother either."

"You know what I mean."

"I do. Do you know her?"

"No," she said. "She's pretty though."

"I suppose. She was. Not so much anymore."

"You don't think she is or she's not?"

"Both. She hasn't taken real good care of herself. You know?"

"That's too bad. Does she have a boyfriend?"

"No. Not that I'm aware of. I don't want her to either."

"Why not?"

"Because I don't want her getting married or something before I can do anything and then not be able to get custody of Holly because she's suddenly in a stable home."

"Oh," she said, relieved that was the reason.

"I think her parents know I'm eventually going to take Holly."


"They don't even question me anymore when I keep her an extra night or whatever. They got pretty pissed off at me over the weekend. It was the first time she'd been sick with me, you know, when I had her. They thought I was just letting her cry all night or something."

"You weren't though."

"No, of course not. She woke up about three I guess. She had a fever and so I gave her some Tylenol."


"Right? It didn't do much good. By the time I realized the Tylenol wasn't working her pediatrician's office was just about open anyway."

"I would've done the same thing."

"They saw that after I explained it to them."

"And they let you keep her until today?"

"They don't have anything to say about it. It's up to Betty and she doesn't care. Except I guess she's used to having her Wednesday's to go out and since I don't have her tonight."

"She can't go out."

"Right," he said with a shrug. "I don't feel sorry for her, though."

"I don't either, really. Are you going to call my dad?"

"I am. I'm getting my pay stubs together and stuff. I saw someone before, you know, a free consultation just to see if she could go after me for support or whatever since she lied."

"She can?"

"She can," he said. "He told me what all I'd need to prove I can offer her the most stable environment."

"You've been giving her money, though?"

"Yes, every month. Nothing's on paper. I've been shocked as hell her parents haven't made her do that yet, but maybe they realize nothing formal means it'll be easier for me to get her."

"They want you to have her?"

"I think her parents raised their kids and don't want to raise her kid, too."

"I could see that."

"So, yes, I'm going to call him."


"He's not going to tell your mother about our conversation, is he?"

"He can't! Of course not."

"Well, I know he's not supposed to, but I don't know what husbands and wives talk about."

"No, he wouldn't do that."


"Why'd you button your shirt?"

"Because you were doing something I don't think you realized what you were doing."

"I realized it."

"Yeah, well, you were doing it because you were upset."

"And you care?"

He scoffed. "I don't want you doing things with me because you're upset at your mother, no. That's the wrong reason to start things."

"But making out with me on your couch is okay?"

"We've made out before," he said.


"I wanted to again."

"Me, too," she said.

"You're not going out with my boss again, are you?"

She laughed at that.

"No," she said.

"Did you even have a good time?"

"It wasn't bad. I don't know. I mean it was weird, but he was nice about it. He told me at the end of the night that he really asked me because women like me don't walk into his garage every day."

"No, they sure don't. I can attest to that."

"You know, you can just pick up the phone and call me instead of coming over to my house."

"Yeah, well, I'm not real good on the phone. I almost forgot I had one when I had to call into work Monday morning."

"Well, still."

"You're going back to school soon anyway."

"I am," she said. "I gave you that number, too."

"Yeah," he said.

"Nothing happened between us."

"I believe you. I think he was fucking with me to see what I'd do."

"I think you might be right. I'm sorry."

He shrugged. "It's just the kind of guy he is. It's all right. I'm not going to lose my job over it or anything."

"I should let you go," she said, realizing it was pretty late for someone who had to wake up in the morning anyway and drive downtown. She knew Erik had told her he got to the garage about seven every morning. John couldn't be allowed to get there much later.

"What did you tell your mom anyway?"

"I told her I was going out and if she wanted to think I was going to a wild orgy she could think that."

"Better be sure and put your lipstick back on then or she'll think you really did go to one."

"I will," she said.

He stood then, picking her gloves up from the floor while she slid her coat on. That she'd managed to take off normally.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"Walking you to your car."

"You don't have to."

"I know I don't have to," he said, grabbing his coat and keys. He shut the door behind them and walked with her, letting her lead the way to where she parked.

"So, this weekend," he said at her car.


"You have plans?"

"Oh, you know, there's always something. Why?"

"Well, you want to come out with us, you can. I'll probably rent a movie or something."

"Where are you going?"

"Oh, I don't know. That depends on if you agree or not. You don't agree I probably won't take her anywhere. I'll just make her macaroni and cheese or something. You agree we can do pizza or something."

"Which night did you have in mind?"

"You tell me which night you want to."

"Saturday," she said.

"Why?" he asked.

"You don't work Saturday."

"No," he said.

"Then you won't be tired from working all day."

"Oh," he said. "All right. Saturday it is then. Just come over whenever." He leaned in and kissed her. "Or better yet. Do you have something to write with in that purse of yours?"

"Yes," she said.

"Let me give you my number you can call me and tell me when you're on your way. That way I can make sure she's ready to go."

"Okay," she said. She pulled the paper and pen out of her purse, laughing softly that the last time she'd used it was to give Erik her numbers.

"What's so funny?"

"Nothing," she said. "It's just, I, uh, Erik asked for my number. I gave them to him."

"Obviously he called you tonight."

"I gave him my dorm number, too," she said.

"Really? You wanted him to call you?"

"Well, he asked. I didn't have a terrible time!"

"Fuck, Claire. Now I have to wonder if he's going to be calling you."

"Are you going to be calling me?"

"I don't know. When I can, I guess. I didn't think you gave me your number for that reason."

"I wouldn't hang up on you."

"That's good to know."

He handed her the paper and pen back, opening her door for her then. He leaned in to kiss her again.

"I'd ask you to stay," he said.

"You would?"

"I would, but I'm not going to be a part of a complete lie to your mom."

"I wouldn't be able to anyway," she said.

"Maybe for a little while you could've. I could set my alarm for you to get up in time to get home."

"Maybe," she said. She liked that idea far too much. She had no business liking it or wanting to tell him she'd go back inside with him right now.

"Maybe next time," he said. "See you Saturday then."


Return to Top

***Chapter Five***
Word Count: 9,234

"Hello," she said.

'Hey, it's John,' he said.

"Hi," she said more than a little surprised that he was calling her. She just assumed she wouldn't hear from him until she called on Saturday. "Is everything okay?"

'Yeah, why?'

"You just told me yesterday you don't use your phone."

'Oh, yeah, I don't really. It occurred to me, though, that maybe I should make an exception.'


'I don't know exactly. I've never felt the burning need to call a girl before honestly.'

"You felt that tonight?"

'Well, not precisely, no, but I couldn't shake the feeling that if I didn't that wouldn't be good.'

"I don't want you calling me because you think you should."

'That's not what I said. I mean, I guess it could be interpreted that way. I just meant, you know. We spent a bit of time together last night.'

"I remember."

'I'm glad,' he said with a sigh. 'I just didn't want you to decide to change your mind about Saturday because you thought I should call today and I didn't.'

"Oh," she said.

'It seemed like something you might, uh, want from a guy. A phone call. I'd stop by, but I'm guessing that wouldn't go over very well.'

"No," she said quickly.

'Okay then, see, so a phone call won out. You know, so you know I actually thought about you today.'

"You did?"

'Well, yeah,' he said. 'You think I wouldn't?'

"I don't know why you would."

He sighed. 'I don't know why you think I wouldn't.'

"I'm still not sure how I'm any more special than anyone else."

'I've explained it to you.' He sighed softly. 'But you're not sure you can believe me.'

"You do that too well for me to think you're being entirely honest."

'You should talk! So I shouldn't believe you've never kissed anyone but me based on your uncanny ability to do it well?'

"It's different!"

'Well, I don't know what to tell you, and I guess I'm especially glad I called then. I don't want you to think I'm being dishonest. About anything.'

"How was your day?" she asked.

'It was a day. I woke up, went to work, got dirty, and came home.'

"Have you had dinner?"

'No, I was working on that actually. I haven't decided what I want, though.'

"You cook?"

'Sometimes. I'm not going to be giving Julia Childs any competition soon or anything, but I do all right. Fast food burgers got old about three months ago and I can't share those with Holly either. I mean, I still do it sometimes the nights I don't have her if I'm too tired on the ride home to want to bother cooking.'

"Huh," she said.

'I was glad you answered,' he said.


'I don't know what your mom would do if I called you, too.'

"Well, I can give you my number, but unless I'm in my room or the basement I'll never hear the phone ring."

'You didn't give Dawson that number either.'

"No," she said. "I don't usually give out that number anymore since I'm hardly home. My parents disconnected my answering machine so I figure if someone really needs to get a hold of me, calling my parents' line is best."

'Somehow I'm glad he's not going to call you while you're in your bedroom.'

She laughed softly.

"I think you're too worried about whether he's going to call me."

'Did you call him back last night?'

"No, I got home too late to do that!"

'Is that the only reason?'

"Well, it's rude not to call someone back."

He snorted. 'I'm sure he's real worried about it. I can tell him you're not going to for you if you want.'

"No! I'll tell him. Though what am I telling him exactly?"

'That you aren't going out with him again.'


'Why what?'

"Well, why shouldn't I exactly?"

'Because I don't want you to.'

"John," she said.

'What do you want me to say?'

"I don't know!"

'I don't like you going out with someone I know. Is that better?'

"A little." It still wasn't really a reason she shouldn't. She wouldn't because while he was a nice enough guy she knew that night he wasn't anyone she'd really want to see again. John evidently didn't need to know that quite yet, though. It was sort of – funny – to hear him get jealous.

'Have you eaten dinner yet?'

"No. Mom's not home yet."

'Where is she?'

"I don't know. I was out earlier and she was gone when I got home."

'I see.'


'If you wanted to eat more than fries with me I think I could probably do something like that.'

"At your apartment?"

'That was the general idea, but I guess if you wanted to go somewhere we could do that, too.'

"No, you don't need to spend money on dinner out."

'Princess, really? I do have a job.'

"Yes, but you have a daughter!"

'Well, sure, but I don't spend every penny on her. John's allowed to spend some of the money he earns on himself once in a while.'

"I guess."

'It's up to you. If you have plans or something.'

"Well, later," she said.

'Another party?'

"Well, sure," she said. "There's been one just about every night this week. There was one that started Monday night that I'm pretty sure didn't end until yesterday because the parents were out of town."

'I'm surprised you're giving up a party on Saturday. People are heading back on Sunday probably, right?'

"You asked."

'I didn't realize that was all it took.'

"For you it seems that is all."

'Huh,' he said.

"What were you thinking of making?"

'To eat? I don't know. I really don't. I think I stood looking in my fridge for like ten minutes before I called you and nothing appealed to me. I mean, I have food, I have pots and pans to cook with, and I even have dishes to eat off but I just didn't want anything.'

"Well, I'd better rescue you from that."

'Right? Does that mean you're coming here?'

"Unless you want to meet somewhere?"

'No, you can come here.'


'Why don't you pick up some subs on the way? I'll pay you for them when you get here. I have drinks. Beer or pop, which ever you want.'

"Are you sure?"


"Should I ask how you have beer?"

'It pays to know nefarious people, Princess.'

"I guess so. Does Betty know you have beer in your fridge?"

'No, and I'd appreciate it if you don't tell her.'

"I'll try to refrain. What do you do with it when she comes over?"

'She doesn't really come here. I pick Holly up and drop her off at her parents' house. The few times she has come she buzzes me to let her in and I have to go out to get her. Or bring Holly out to her if she's coming to get her.'

"Even when it's cold like it is now?"

'Even when.'

"That's awful." She didn't think John would do that, remembering he was worried about her getting sick in October.

'Well, you know, it is what it is.'

"Still awful. Anyway, tell me what you want on your sub and I'll be there in a bit."

She wrote down what he wanted and left after getting dressed in something she could be seen in later. She found her dad in his study.

"I'm going out, Dad."

"All right, honey. Have fun."

"Thanks. I'll probably be late."

"It's fine. Just be responsible."

"I always am."

He nodded a bit. He hadn't even looked up from what he was working on until now. He was like that sometimes. Claire didn't take offense to it, it was just how her dad was. She liked to think that was what made him a good lawyer, being focused on his task. His job. The case.

"I know, I wasn't implying you aren't. It's just that it's winter and the roads are icy. I trust you, I don't trust everyone else out there driving."

"Oh," she said.

What a completely different tone of conversation than the one she'd had with her mother last night. Where her mother basically implied she was doing things she shouldn't be because she didn't come home and have to look her mother in the eye her dad was saying he trusted her. How did they vary so drastically on their opinion of her? What had she done to her mother to make her think she'd do bad things? Geez, she hadn't even made out with a guy until she was eighteen. How was that bad behavior?

"So you don't think I'm going to do anything stupid?"

"No," he said. "Why? Am I supposed to?"

"I don't know. Mom seems to think…"

"Your mother worries I guess that you feel there's too much pressure on you. Your brother quit his job to head out to Colorado to be a ski bum for the winter, so that seems to indicate to her she failed."

"I guess. He'll be back, you know."

"I know he will, and you know he will. It was just something he needed to do. I understand that. Your mother does not. She's embarrassed and doesn't know what to tell our friends. So, she worries that you're going to do something to add to the pressure on her."

Claire rolled her eyes.

"Just keep doing what you're doing, honey, you're fine."

"As long as I don't run off to Paris for a few months to work on designing clothes or something."

"You know if that's what you wanted to do I'd support you."

He would, too. He'd always encouraged her artistic side. She was good at designing, but she knew it was too competitive of a field to get into. It didn't stop her from doing it, though. Her mother called them Claire's doodles or daydreams. One day when she was done with school and had the time maybe she'd work on seeing if she could actually sell some of her designs, but until then it was just a hobby. She enjoyed making some of her own clothes not that she had much time to do that anymore. Taking a sewing machine with her to school wasn't practical. Next year when she got her own apartment maybe she could.

"I know, it's not."

"All right. Have fun," he said.

She'd bothered him long enough obviously. He was busy. She could tell that by the paperwork he had spread out over his desk. She was tempted to ask what he was working on, who he was defending, but it was none of her business. She'd learned long ago she was better off not knowing.

"Your friend hasn't called me yet."

"He will. He told me he's getting paycheck stubs and stuff together."

"Ah, good, so he knows some of what goes into the process."


"Well, good then. Joan has his name whenever he gets around to calling."

Joan was her dad's secretary. There were times this fall at school that she thought she talked to Joan more often than her dad. She'd call, he'd be busy, she'd relay Joan her message, and Joan would call back with Dad's response. Or sometimes, she'd just talk to Joan about whatever she needed to talk about. She certainly didn't pick up the phone to call her mother about things.

"Okay," she said. "Thanks."

"He does know this isn't my specialty, right? I'm doing this as a favor to him for you?"

"I know and he knows. He just wants his daughter, but I've told him to be sure that's what he really wants before talking to you."

"All right, good. I've had one of my paralegals pull information for me, but it's been a very, very long time since I've dealt with family law."

"I know, Dad. I appreciate you doing it."

"See you tomorrow then."

"Yup," she said.

"Oh," he said.

He stood from his desk then, sliding his wallet out of his back pocket. Even here at the house he was still dressed in his suit except the suit coat was draped over his office chair. She had vague recollections of him not being dressed professionally, presentably when she and Christopher were kids. He'd read the Sunday paper in his pajamas or something, but that was so long ago she couldn't even say what his pajamas had looked like.

"Yeah," she said.

"Here's some money."

"I have money."

"Just in case," he said with a wink. "Have fun, sweetheart."

"Thanks, Dad."

She bought the subs with the money her dad had given her and still had plenty left over for whatever since he gave her a fifty dollar bill. She wasn't sure where he thought she was going that she'd need that much money. She had a credit card in case of an emergency with the car where she needed to call a tow truck or something.

"Hi," she said when he opened his door.

"I think I liked your hello better last night," he said.

She blushed profusely at that, hoping he wouldn't notice she was doing that. She still couldn't believe she came that close to having sex with him. She would've, too, she was pretty sure if he hadn't stopped her. That was such an odd thought, John being a voice of reason when it came to sex.

"Yeah, well," she said.

"I guess no run-ins with Mom tonight, huh?"

"No, she still wasn't home when I left."

"Are you going to get in trouble?"

"No, Dad was home. I told him I was leaving."

"All right."

"He told me you haven't called him yet."

"You knew that already."

"I did. He said his secretary knows to take your call. Her name is Joan, by the way, if I didn't tell you that before."

"I'd need to know that why?"

"So she doesn't blow you off. She's busy. Dad has lots of clients and lots of people who can't afford him hoping they'll catch him on a good day. If you call her Joan and mention me she'll know you're someone who knows something about Dad or her."

"I see. Okay."

He led her to a pretty small kitchen. She was actually surprised and a little impressed his apartment was as big as it was. Shermer wasn't cheap, so for him to have a two bedroom place was impressive. He had a table and chairs, though, and a high chair. It was so strange seeing things for a child here. With him. For him.

"You rethinking being here?"

"No," she said, embarrassed he'd caught her staring. She hadn't meant to. She believed Holly was his, of course, but running into him at the pumpkin patch and coming here and seeing tangible, physical proof that she was really his were different she guessed.

"I don't know that I'd blame you. I'm sure most of your friends would tell you to run away."

"No, I'm fine."

"Coming over Saturday?"

"John, I'm fine."

"You sure? Lunch with us when you ran into us is a little different than actual plans that include her."

"It's a little weird," she said.

"I'm sure it is."

"I'm sure it's weird for you, too, though."

"It is," he agreed.

"I'll be fine. I just didn't see your kitchen last night."

"All right."

"You're not worried about her?"

"What about her?"

Claire shrugged a bit, setting the bags with their subs down. "You know, that she'll be around me."

He scoffed. "Why would that worry me? What are you going to do? Dress too nice for her?"

"I don't know."

"I'm sure I'd hear about it if she was big enough to do more than babble. I'm allowed to have friends, though, and it's not like you're going to be hanging around her every day or anything."

"Well, right," she said. Of course not, because she was leaving for school next week.

"And even if you were. What could her mom possibly say?"

"I don't know. You may want to talk to my dad about things like that."

"About you hanging around us?"

"You may not want to mention me, no."

"Yeah, I figured as much. You sure your mom hasn't told him I've come around?"

"I don't know. I'm not sure he'd be as worried about it as she is. I think he actually trusts me."


"Shocking, right? He's just more rational than she is."

"That looks like a lot more than two subs," he said.

"Well, I figured you could take whatever you don't eat tonight with you tomorrow."

"Do I get to tell Erik you bought me my lunch then?"

"I guess that's up to you."

He scoffed. "He was his usual not talkative self today."

"Is that bad?"

"I don't know. I expected him to tell me something about him talking to your mother."

"Oh, well, I suppose if I'd talked to him, too, he may have. I don't know."

"You didn't call him today?"

"No! I presumed he was still at work until you called."

"He was still there when I left actually, working on something that I have nothing to do with."

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, he takes on projects for people. You know, complete refurbishing or overhauls. I don't touch that stuff. Well, the overhauls I can, but body work isn't really my thing. He lets me work with him if I don't have Holly and can stay late. I admit, it's one of the things I like about him, he seems willing to teach me stuff I never learned working on cars with my old man. Most of the time, though, things like that he has to do it on his own time, because he still takes in normal business. He's pretty good actually," John said with a shrug.

"I noticed his car on Monday. It's very nice."

"You didn't ride in it?"


"Why not?" he asked. "I find it hard to believe he made you drive yourself."

"No, of course not. He wanted to drive my car."

John shook his head slightly. "I guess I can't fault him for that. It is a nice car, Princess."

"Thank you, though I didn't buy it."

"I know, but it's unique. It stands out. Like you, so it doesn't matter you didn't buy it. It's you."

"I'm not sure that's why my dad bought it."

"Yeah, I'm not sure what sixteen year old deserves it, but obviously your dad thought you did."

"Does he let you work on your car?"

"Yeah, on my own time."

"That has to be helpful."

"Sure, changing my own oil and stuff is good. What do you want to drink?"

"Coke is fine."

"No beer?"

"Not tonight, no."

"Hmm. Okay."


"I think I might like to see you with a beer or two in you."

"Maybe one day."

He grabbed himself a beer and her a Coke before joining her at the table.

"So, this has been bugging me all day."

"Oh?" she asked.

"If I hadn't come over yesterday."


"Would you have gone out with him again?"

"Really? This is the type of thing that bugs you?"

"Well, yeah, where you're concerned anyway it is."

"I don't know, John. Probably. You still haven't given me a real reason why I shouldn't to begin with."

"I guess I can't stop you, no."

"I won't. It's not like it was anything more than a date to me. He was nice and everything. I had a nice time and everything."

"I'm not sure he saw it as a date."

"I wasn't going to sleep with him! You of all people should know that I can stop myself."

"You weren't at a party that day, Princess. I don't know what you're capable of with a couple of beers in you."

"I'd gotten high with you!"

"True," he said with a shrug. "Not quite the same, though. Holly, for example, not out of a night of my getting stoned but drunk."

"I'm sure it happens."

"Oh, I'm sure it does, too, but you just don't hear about it as much as people doing stupid shit when you're drunk."

"You realize you don't make sense."


"So, it's okay for me to sit here in your kitchen where there's a high chair and a bedroom a few feet away with a crib and probably clothes and stuff in it. It's not okay for you to know who I go out on a date with."

"I never said it was rational my way of thinking."

"And if I said I didn't want to come here Saturday."

"No one's making you."

"No, say I said I couldn't handle it. It'd still bother you?"

"If you went out on another date with my boss instead? Is that what you're asking me? Yes!"

She frowned a bit at that, but didn't say anything else.

"Is the table yours?"

"Yeah. Everything's mine. All legally, too," he said.

"I wasn't doubting that."

"The couch came from kind of a friend of mine's mom. She was redecorating their basement or something and she mentioned I needed a couch so her mom let me have it."

"That was nice."

"Yeah. That's why it looks like something from the seventies, though."

"It's not bad. You could buy a cover to put over it or something."

"I could. I don't have a whole lot of people over who'd care. You're about the only one that I ever really thought on what it must look like to you."

"And I told you that I don't care."

"Oh, I know what you say, but I can't help but thinking of your mom and what she'd say."

"I'm not my mother! She's not coming over here either."

"No, but somewhere in there is what she taught you, your upbringing. The way you dress. You're not your mother, but you don't shun nice things."

"And if I was in your shoes I wouldn't be able to afford them so I'd have to take what I could get. Stop assuming I'm judging you!"

"How much do I owe you for the subs anyway?"

"Nothing. My dad gave me money before I left."

"To buy me dinner?"

"No, but I already had money and he gave me fifty dollars. So," she shrugged. "Buy something for yourself or Holly."

"Well, thanks then I guess. You didn't have to buy me lunch, too."

"No, I know, but it's cheaper to buy the bigger ones," she shrugged.

"You're right I guess. You didn't get anything weird on yours, did you?"


"No raw fish or Brussel sprouts?"

"Uh no."

"All right, then I'll take it if you're sure you don't want it."


"What time is your party?"

She shrugged. "Whatever time I get there. I'm not throwing it so it doesn't really matter."

"So you're not in a particular hurry."


He stood then and she watched him as he got some things out of his cupboards. She'd thought on him after that day of detention, wondered what he was like away from school but she'd never had the chance to find out. Somehow she doubted he was free at his parents' house to do things like go through the cupboards.

"So, it occurred to me today that I deprived you of your ice cream last night."

"You did!"

He chuckled softly. "I'm not sure I should be insulted you're still concerned about the ice cream cone I threw out the window since it led to a nice couple of hours with you."

"It did."

"So, I stopped at Jewel on my way home. I wasn't sure what kind you like, but I figure who can go wrong with chocolate chip."

"You bought me ice cream?"

He shrugged. "Well, yeah, you seemed pretty intent on having some last night. I didn't know at the time I was going to call you today, but I figured we could have some with you on Saturday."

"John," she said.

"Don't go getting all excited or anything, Princess. It's just ice cream."

"Yeah, but…"

"It's no big deal."

"That was very nice of you."

"So, do you want some now," he asked. The bowls he'd pulled out made a lot more sense now.

"Sure," she said. She stood then, walking to him. "You're not going to throw it away again, are you?"

He chuckled. "No," he said, taking a large spoon out of the drawer. She glanced in it, noticing while he had stuff in there it wasn't like her mom's drawer that was full of everything imaginable under the sun someone could need in their kitchen.

"No ice cream scoop?" she asked.

"Nah, I've never bought any before."



"Huh," she said, regarding him for a minute.

"This surprises you? I suppose ice cream was a common thing in your freezer growing up?"

"Pretty much," she said.

She set her hand over his, stopping him from opening the freezer. It was incredibly stupid, but she was pretty sure him buying her ice cream was the nicest thing anyone had done for her.

She leaned in and kissed him, surprising him she could tell. He probably thought she was mad at him or something about Holly or his reaction to going out with his boss. She wasn't really. He was just very confusing, though she had to admit dating him or not it would bother her to know who he was going out with. She'd never liked anyone before, or since, him. It bothered her to have a face to go with the name of Holly's mom. That was her own fault. She was too curious not to look, to see if she knew her. To see what she looked like. To see what kind of girls John liked before her. The pictures of girls in his wallet weren't the same thing. She had no physical proof he'd had sex with them or done anything with them. She'd seen proof he had with Holly's mom.

He seemed to forget about the ice cream pretty quickly after she did that, turning to face her better and sliding his arms around her instead.

"Why is it you have this habit of kissing me in the most uncomfortable places?" he asked when they stopped kissing for a minute. She found his jaw, lower to his neck and a spot there that made him give the most arousing sound she thought she'd ever heard.

"What?" she asked.

"I didn't say to stop what you were doing," he said.

"Hmm, explain yourself then."

"You just have this habit of kissing me when we're standing up so we'll have to stop."

"We did fine that day at school."

"Well, yeah, sure."

"And last night," she said.

"True," he said. "You're missing my point, though. We still had to, you know, stop to sit."

"And you don't want to stop?"

"Kissing you? No," he whispered when she nipped at his ear.

"Even that day?"

"Especially that day."

"I was kind of mad you didn't do anything else."

"I wasn't going to do anything else when Vernon could've walked in at any minute."

"I know. I was still kind of mad."

"He's not going to walk in tonight, you know," he said.

"You stopped me last night!"

"You were upset!"

"You didn't know that."

"Sweets, it was very obvious you were not kissing me to kiss me."

"I was!"

"No, you weren't. You were mad at your mother and wanted to get back at her for saying something hurtful to you."

"I guess," she whispered. "I'm not mad at her tonight."

"No, I know. I never realized buying a girl ice cream could get this reaction or maybe I would've tried it sooner."

"I can't speak for other girls."

"Just you, huh?"


"Well, that's incredibly fortunate because there isn't really anyone else I'd want to buy ice cream for."


"Well, you know, one I guess, but I'm pretty sure she wouldn't kiss me like you do for buying it for her."

"I hope not," Claire said with a soft laugh.

"You have a couple of choices here, Princess."


"My couch or my room. I guess a third is back to ice cream."

"I think your couch is probably safest."

"You sure you want to be safe?"

"For tonight."

"Why?" he asked, regarding her.


"Well, yeah."

"I can't be sure how either of us will react on Saturday. I may get here and you might not like me hanging out with you two."

"I wouldn't have asked you if …"

"I may get here and realize it's more than I can handle. I mean, I sat with you at lunch in October, but that was different."

"I get it," he said.

"You didn't seem to have a problem just kissing me last night."

"No, I don't. I suggested my room, but I didn't say what for."

"You could be in bed with me and just kiss me?"

He stepped away a bit, offering her his hand.


"You scared, Princess?"

"Of you?"


"Yes," she admitted.

He nodded a bit at that. "Me, too. So that makes both of us. I guess a better question is do you trust me?"

"I do," she said.

"Then let me prove that I can be in bed with you and just kiss you."

She was acting incredibly crazy. She knew that, but she took his hand. It really wasn't a matter of whether she trusted him, but herself. There was no time like the present to find out she supposed.


"I don't want to get up," she murmured softly as he kissed her ear. He wasn't helping her in that either. Kissing her ear was not giving her an incentive to get up and go home as she had to do. She'd stayed here way later than she probably reasonably should have.

"I'm not making you, believe me. You said you have to," he said.

He'd set his alarm for her like he said he would last night. She didn't really have a curfew, but she was pretty sure her mother would freak out if she never came home.

"I know. Mom will kill me if I don't come home."

"I get it," he said. "She'll be sleeping when you get home, right?"

"Yes, why?"

"Just make sure the next couple of days you wear a turtleneck or something," he said, kissing the spot she was pretty sure he'd left her a hickey on at some point during the evening.

"I won't forget."

"Good. I don't want you to get in trouble when we didn't really do anything deserving of it."

"I know."

She turned then to face him, running a finger along his mouth. He nipped at it, kissing it.

"You're not going to cover yours, are you?"

He chuckled. "Not a chance I'm doing that, no."

"You're so bad."

"You gave it to me!"

"Like I knew what I was doing."

"Like I was going to stop you."

"I suppose not. I don't think he's going to be very surprised anyway."


"No," she said, remembering their conversation on New Year's Eve. "Please don't tell him we did anything we didn't do."

"Sweets, really?"


He sighed softly. "I'm not going to talk about you! Not covering it up does not mean I'm going to talk about you. What's he going to do? Ask me questions about getting it? I doubt it since he's into you. You said you trusted me."

"I do, I just know what I hear guys saying."

"You've never heard me saying things."

"I've heard the things you've said about Betty."

"Well, yeah, she's a lying bitch, though. I have nothing nice to say about her."

"I know," she said. She believed him. She did, but there was a little voice in the back of her head that told her she didn't have both sides to the story. She couldn't imagine an eighteen year old purposely getting pregnant, but she knew weirder things had happened. It just seemed so completely bizarre especially since she didn't seem to want anything from John beyond what went into making Holly. And his money.

"You don't have to leave. You were going to a party. You could just tell them in the morning you stayed there."

"I would if I do that commonly, but I don't."

He sighed.

"I wouldn't think you'd want me to stay here anyway."


She shrugged. "Wouldn't that make things more complicated?"

"More complicated than they already are between us? I don't know how that's possible, but I guess I see your point."

"I'm sorry you had to wake up in the middle of the night."

"It's all right, Princess."

She sat up then, finding her shoes.

"What are you doing?" She was surprised to see him get out of bed, too.

"Getting up with you."

"John, that's totally not necessary."

"I'm not letting you walk out to your car at two in the morning by yourself."

"Now I feel worse."

"Worth it," he said, kissing her.

"Are you calling me tomorrow too?" she asked at her car.

He chuckled. "I don't know. That would kind of ruin the surprise if I told you now I was. Wouldn't it?"

"You did surprise me."

"That was my plan."

"Thank you for the ice cream."

"We'll have some on Saturday, I promise."


He leaned down and kissed her.

"Get some sleep," she said.

"You, too, drive careful."

"I will."

He didn't go back inside until she'd pulled out of the parking lot. She felt incredibly bad that he not only had to wake up for his alarm hours earlier than he'd have to normally but that he'd felt he had to walk her to her car, too. Of course if he hadn't and something happened to her he would've felt bad.


"Hello," she said sleepily.

'Good morning.'

"Oh God, it's like six o'clock in the morning! This is not what I had in mind when I asked if you'd call me today."

He chuckled softly. She had to admit it was kind of sexy sounding, which was not what she needed to be thinking about him in any capacity. 'I know, I'm sorry. Normally I wouldn't be that mean. I just wanted you to know that you left your purse here.'

"I did?"

'You did. I can bring it with me to work if you want to come pick it up before I get home.'

"Sure," she said.

'I just didn't want you freaking out later where it was or whatever.'

"Thank you very much. I can't believe I did that."

'Evidently I distracted you.'

"I guess so."

'I can't say that's a bad thing.'

"It would be if I needed my license or my money!"

'Between my house and yours, Princess?'

"Okay, well, true," she said. "I could've gotten pulled over."

'You could've. They can run a license number with your name as long as you're not committing a felony or something they'd let it slide once.'


'So I've heard. I've never done it, but I know people who've realized after they got pulled over they didn't have their ID on them.'


'Says the woman who left her purse at my place.'

"I was tired! You distracted me."

He chuckled. 'I'm just teasing you, Princess. You get ornery when you're tired.'

"I'm not ornery."

'Remind me not to call you before I leave for work when you're at school.'

"I'm not mad at you!"

'Is that your way of saying I could call you before I leave for work some time?'

"My roommate may not appreciate it."

'There is that,' he said, seeming to get that it wasn't just her he'd be waking up at an ungodly hour for college students.

"Sorry." Then she didn't really like her roommate, so she couldn't say she'd really care if she was mad. Well, beyond the fact she had to live with her for close to five months yet. If she never saw her again Claire wouldn't complain. She was pretty certain Emily felt the same way about her, too.

'It's all right. I'll be there after seven o'clock give or take traffic. So whenever you want to come get it.'

"Okay, thank you again. I'm sorry."

'It's not a problem. You're lucky I saw it, I don't always sit down and eat in the mornings, but I had the other half of your sub for breakfast.'

"Really? I'm glad you ate it."

'Yeah, it sounded better than toast or a banana. Too messy to eat in the car while driving, though, so I sat to eat it.'

"That's all you eat for breakfast?"

'Most mornings.'

"You work so hard and such long hours, though."

'Is that concern I hear in your voice, sweets?'

"I guess it is," she said.

'Well, I'll take it. I'm fine. Really.'

"Okay, of course, you know what you need."

He chuckled softly at that. 'I'm not sure you're ready to hear what I need yet, Princess.'

"Would you have showed me if I'd stayed there?"

'You're obviously very tired to be asking me questions like that. I'll let you go.'


'For one, I don't want to be late for work. For two, I don't want you to say something you're going to be embarrassed about later. Sleep some more.'

"Okay," she said.

'Don't forget about your purse.'

"I won't. Thanks again."

'Sure,' he said, hanging up.

She hung up, turning over onto her side in bed. How embarrassing! He probably thought she did it on purpose or something so he'd have to call her. She hoped he knew her better than to think she'd do that, but she knew some women who were pretty devious. He had experience with one, too. Granted, leaving her purse there wasn't on the same level as getting pregnant. She wasn't one of the devious ones, which was probably why to this point she'd never had a serious (or even what most would consider a real) boyfriend and only made out with one guy in her life.

It was around noon when she got there. She'd woken up a little before eleven, figuring he probably took his lunch around noon. Then, maybe she shouldn't have timed getting there with when she thought his lunch might be. She figured there was less chance for Erik to get mad at her being there. She wasn't sure and she also wasn't sure how Erik was going to react to her being there. To get her purse that she'd left at John's apartment.


She dressed nicer than she would just to drive downtown to pick up her purse. She wasn't altogether sure who she was dressing for exactly. It was kind of nice having someone like Erik show interest in her. Her only experience with an older guy was at school this fall and he was an asshole who thought she owed him something for speaking to her let alone asking her out on a date. He'd tried to get her alone, but her friends who were at the same party thankfully wouldn't let her out of their sights.

She wasn't even sure Erik would ever call her again truthfully. He'd given her the impression Monday night he wasn't going to. Then he'd called Wednesday night, though she supposed he may have called to let her know that John knew they'd gone out. She had no idea.

She could only hope he wouldn't be rude to her today!

"No donuts today," the tow truck driver said when he saw her get out of her car. His name was John, too, she thought she remembered John telling her.

"Uh, no. I just came to pick up my purse."

"Should I ask where you left it?"

She blushed profusely at that and he laughed heartily. So, he was teasing her.

"You go on inside. Don't let Dawson scare you either. He thought you were real nice."

"He was nice, too," she admitted.

"Don't spread it around. He likes having the mean-hearted mechanic image."


John shrugged. "Who knows? You'd have to ask him I wager."

"That would be kind of personal."

"Probably it would, yeah."

"And none of my business."

"I didn't go out on a date with him."

"It was one date!"

He chuckled again, sliding his baseball cap more securely on his head.

"See you next time, though I guess you're heading back to school soon so there probably won't be a next time."

"Uh, yeah, next week."

"Well, that's too bad, you sure do pretty-up the place. Well, then, until next time."

"Sure. It was nice to meet you."

He laughed again.

"You're polite, I'll give you that. Bye Claire," he said, getting into his tow truck.

She walked to the door then, opening it. That stupid squeak was still there. She should've expected it, but it still made her practically jump out of her skin. She at least had an idea where he would be this time. The first time she'd been there she hadn't a clue.

"He's in the bathroom I think," Erik said from his office.

"Hi," she said. He was looking at her pretty intently from the doorway there. Obviously, he'd been working on something in his office and got up to see who was opening the door. His wrecker driver had just left so he had to assume it wasn't him.

"Hi yourself. So, you want that fifty dollars?"

She smiled a little at that. "Uh, no. That's okay. I told you I didn't want your money."

"I was right, though."

"I'm not sure I want to even know what you said to him."

"Nothing! I mean, nothing that wasn't the truth. Your friend bringing his car in probably helped."

"Oh yeah, thanks again for doing that for him. That was nice of you."

"It's my garage and I like getting business, no reason to thank me for doing my job."

"I suppose. Still, thanks."

He stepped away from the doorframe then, closing the distance between them. She'd noticed on Monday night how much taller he was than her. She wasn't used to that because she wasn't exactly short. John was a little taller than she was, only by a couple of inches. Erik was probably a half foot taller than she was. He dropped a hand to the shoulder of her coat, which she probably had no business letting him do.

"Can I ask you a question?"

"Sure," she said.

"You sure you want someone with a kid? A kid he wants living with him? A kid with a kind of crazy mom? I mean, that's basically two full-time jobs. Where's he going to find time for you? To take you out like you deserve to be taken out? To buy you the things you clearly like?" He slid his hand lower to her upper arm. "To visit you at school like a boyfriend should do when he works all week and has a kid all weekend even if he doesn't get custody."

"I think you're reading way more into it then what it is. We're friends."

"Am I?"


"Six months he's been working here I've never seen him walk in with a hickey on his neck before."


"I've never seen or heard any evidence that he's done anything but work and be a dad."


"I'm just making sure. I'm not even suggesting it'd be me if it's not him, but you know. I wouldn't complain if it was me. That's just a lot to take on."

"I'm not taking anything on! I'm leaving in a few days to go back to college."

"Uh huh," he said. "Well, you know, you change your mind…"

"I know where to find you." She glanced up at him for a second. "I'm sorry I didn't call you back."

"It's all right. I wasn't really expecting you to. I was just calling to tell you he knew I'd taken you out and that your friend had brought his car in. And, well, to call you. I'm not sure I'm going to just bow out until I know for sure I'm not reading more into things."

"Again I'm going to school!"

"They have phones there. I can dial out. I even have long-distance here at work."

"You can," she said.

"And you haven't told me to fuck off."

"Well, no, I wouldn't do that. You're John's boss. You've been, mostly, nice to me."

He chuckled softly at that. "I guess I deserved that. I do have my weekends free for the most part, so a drive to Iowa City wouldn't be out of the question for a single, unattached guy like me."

He leaned down then and she pushed on his chest. She knew exactly what he was going to try to do and she wasn't having any of that. "You can't do that."

"Oh, I can," he said, glancing behind her and somehow she knew John was standing there. "I won't, though. Hey, John, look who's here."

She shook her head a little, turning then to face John. He didn't look real pleased, which she supposed she couldn't really blame him. Except, he still hadn't given her a valid reason for her not being able to go out on another date with Erik beyond it bothering him. Her kissing John would certainly stop her, but he hadn't said that was why. Was he expecting her to go back to school and do nothing?

"Hi," she said.

His eyes slid between the two of them. Did he really think she'd kiss someone else knowing he was in the building? Then she wasn't entirely sure that would stop some people. She wasn't sure it would stop John, regardless of what he said about not kissing people. She still found that hard to believe. He had to have kissed people. Did girls really just have sex with guys without something coming before it? She was pretty sure she wouldn't be able to have sex without kissing coming first.

Not that she didn't believe him exactly, but he certainly didn't kiss like someone with little experience kissing. Then what did she know? She'd only kissed him so had no one to compare him to.

"I'm not sure I like what you're thinking right now," he said, as if reading her mind.


"Nothing. I can see you're thinking something and I can tell that it's probably not in my favor."

"No, I'm not."

"All right, Princess, come on. We'll get your purse so you can get on with your day."

"Thanks again."

"Don't worry about it," he said.

"I'm surprised you brought it in here with you," she said.

"Why? I wasn't going to leave it in my car outside."

"You have locks on your car."

"Sure, that's not going to stop someone from breaking the window and getting in that way."

"Your trunk."

"I guess that would've worked. Shows how often I have women's purses in my car. You do that? Really? Lock your purse in your trunk?"

"I haven't, no, but Mom has sure. When we've come downtown to do something but she didn't need it or something."

"Huh," he said. "All right, still seems risky to me."

"Who's going to pry open someone's trunk hoping there's a purse in there? Mine doesn't have that much money in it."

"Your mom's probably did."

"Well, yeah, but still…"

"I suppose."

"You were eating?"

"Yeah. I go to lunch at noon unless I'm elbows-deep in something."

"I'm sorry."

"You're good. I was just in the bathroom, it's not like you took me away from anything."


"He likes you, you know," he said.

"I can't help that! I don't think he does, though, not really."

"I don't see him trying to kiss other women."

"I didn't try to kiss him back."

"I saw. He knew I was watching. He tried anyway."

"I can't help that."

"I know. I guess I can't really blame him. I probably would, too."

"You'd try to kiss a woman who was coming to see a guy who had a hickey?"

He shrugged. "I didn't say that. He was trying to kiss you not just a woman. And, yes, I'd probably do the same thing if I was in his shoes. Then I'm not sure what I would have done if he'd shown up here on Wednesday with a hickey."

"I wasn't even close to giving him a hickey!"

"That is very good to know," he said, sliding a hand to her hip and tugging her toward him. "I'm sorry I woke you this morning."

"You were fine. I would have freaked out if you hadn't and I wasn't able to find my purse."

"That's sort of what I figured."

"You figured right."

"I'm going to kiss you now. Is that all right? Or are you going to stop me, too?"

"I'm not sure."

"Not sure, huh," he said. "You're going to make me work for it, I guess?"

"Something like that," she said.

He kissed her then and she kissed him back. She couldn't even find it in her to be remotely embarrassed that Erik might be watching them. He obviously knew they were together somehow last night.

"When do you leave?"

"Next Saturday. Classes start again Monday."

"Right. Some night next week we're doing something."

"We're doing something tomorrow I thought." Was she wrong? Was he canceling on her?

"Without Holly. Outside of my apartment. A movie. Dinner. Walking around the mall. I don't care. Think about what you want to do."

"John," she said.

"You don't want to?"

"No, I just," she sighed softly. "It shouldn't be just up to me."

"I'm asking you, so of course it should be up to you."

"Are you asking me out on a date?"

"I should say no, that I'm just being nice to make sure you have something to do."

"I was! I was absolutely not coming here to ask you out on a date! It was New Year's Eve. Everyone deserves to be somewhere on New Year's Eve."

"I was somewhere."

"I know."

"Yes, I'm asking you out on a date."

"Are you sure you want to do that?"

"Why wouldn't I be?"

"I don't know. I'm leaving in a week. I won't be back again until Easter if I even come home that weekend. I'm planning on going to Mexico for Spring Break. So that means May…"

"Let's worry about a date and then May after that. Okay?"

"John," she said.

"Is there a reason you shouldn't go out on a date with me? You have a guy back at school or something?"

"No! I wouldn't have agreed to go out with your boss if that was the case."

"Then what?"

And that was the question. What? What was stopping her? Her pride, finding out later it meant nothing to him after all. Why was it okay to go on a date with Erik and not him? Because she really liked John and didn't want to have just one date with him.

"Fine," she said. Stupid. Very stupid idea. It was going to totally cloud things between them. He couldn't even tell her what he wanted from her and now he was asking her out on a date. She was so setting herself up to get hurt here in a big way.

"If you don't want to…"

"No, we can go somewhere. I'll think about it."

"Did he say something to you that's making you not want to go on a date with me? Because I swear if he says I have women calling me or coming here looking for me, he's lying."

"He didn't. He's fine."

He scoffed at that.

"I should let you finish your lunch."

"You could sit and talk to me if you wanted to. He won't care as long as I'm back to work when I'm supposed to be."

"I actually have a nail appointment," she said.

"I see," he said, taking one of her hands in his. He looked at it pretty intently, running the pad of his thumb over her nails. "They look fine to me."

"I need new polish."

"I'll pretend to understand."

"I'm getting my toes done, too," she said.

"Hmm, now those I might be interested in seeing."

"My toes?"

"Well, you know, your feet, sure."

"They're feet."

"They're your feet, connected to, you know, your legs and, well, the rest of you. I'd be very interested in seeing your toes."

"Maybe," she said.

"Better than no."

"I'm not wearing sandals tomorrow."

He chuckled. "I'm not sure that's what I was suggesting. All right, go get your nails done then, Princess. I'll see you tomorrow."

"You're not calling later?"

"I assumed you wouldn't be home. It's Friday night."


"I'm not calling your house when I know you're not home. The less I have to deal with your mother the better. Probably better for all of us."

"You could call my line later."

"How much later?"

"I don't know. Try before you go to sleep I guess. If I answer I'm home."

"That's very vague."

She shrugged. "I don't know what else to tell you. I don't know what time I'm going to be home. If you don't want to that's fine."

"Okay. Maybe later then. If not, you're calling before you come over tomorrow. Right?"


"Okay," he leaned down and kissed her again.

"I kind of like that there," she said, running one of the nails she was about to get done over the hickey.

"I'd really like the one you have being there if you didn't have to hide it."

"My mother would ground me for the rest of my life!"

"I know. Call me weird, but I'd like him seeing that we both had fun."

"That's the only reason?"

"Well, no, but right now, here and now, that's my reason."

She smirked a bit at that, leaning up and kissing the mark.

"Don't say good bye yet, I'm walking you out to your car."

"You both do that. Why?"

"Because it's a shitty neighborhood. Your parents would probably sue me if something happened to you while you were here visiting me at work."

"They would not," she said.

"Still not taking my chances. Your car is rather distinct and obviously costly, which would imply you've got costly things on you, too."

"I suppose it is," she said.

He kissed her again outside, but didn't linger. It was cold and he didn't put his jacket on.

"I'll try calling later then."

"Okay," she said. She had no idea what time he'd go to sleep on a Friday night to call her. She was absolutely not going to cut her night early on the chance he might call. "Tell Erik to have a nice weekend."

"I'm not relaying any messages to Dawson from you, Princess," he said, shutting her door for her once she was inside and had started her car. He didn't wait for her to be off the lot completely to go back inside, but she noticed the door to the garage didn't close completely until she did.

Return to Top

***Chapter Six***
Word Count: 4,335

He buzzed her in, expecting her since she'd surprised him by calling about an hour ago. He almost hadn't answered the phone, assuming it was Betty. She was about the only one who ever called him with any regularity. If he didn't have Holly he'd get rid of the phone altogether, but he knew her mom had to have a way to get a hold of him.

"Hey," he said when she got to the door.

He'd been more than surprised when she suggested they go downtown with Holly. She'd left it up to him what they'd do since he knew Holly's limits and attention span, but he had to admit none of the ideas she'd thrown out were bad ones. To top it off, he'd never been to any of the places she'd suggested either. Field trips weren't something John had been able to participate in growing up. His mom must have felt a twinge of guilt, though, because she always called him in sick on those days. He'd never put two and two together until he was in junior high and there'd been a play he was supposed to go to at Shermer High. That one didn't even cost anything, but he still hadn't gone.

"Hey yourself," she said.

"You're sure this is what you want to do with your last Saturday here?"

"I'm sure, John. Come on, it'll be fun. I haven't been downtown for this type of thing in a long time."

"All right. Well, we're set."

"Did you decide where we're going?"

"Uh, yeah, I figured the aquarium would be the best bet. An art museum is probably a little too much for her. I'd be afraid she'd tear an original Monet off the wall or something."

"Well, they have them sectioned off and pretty high on the walls so she probably wouldn't be able to, but that's fine. I'm totally fine with whatever you want to do."

"Holly, come on, let's get your shoes on," he said.

He leaned over while she sat on the floor in front of the door where both of their shoes were.

"You remember Daddy's friend, Claire? We saw her the day we picked out our pumpkin. Remember that?"

She didn't say anything, which wasn't surprising but she did glance from John to Claire and back to him again.

"We're going to the aquarium today. You'll get to see fish, whales, and sharks, turtles, reefs, and all sorts of cool stuff." He glanced at Claire with a frown. "They have sharks, right?"

"Yes," she said.

"All right," he said and she frowned a bit at that.

He stood, grabbing the bag she'd seen him have with them in October. It had diapers and whatever else he'd need in it like an extra change of clothes. Her mom had a real elaborate thing, but John found this one that looked more like a carry-on bag someone might bring on an airplane with them. He liked it much better than the one with ducks or whatever it was. He picked Holly up, flipping the light switch off.

"All right. Oh, hey, can you grab my keys for me? They're on the kitchen table."

"Sure," she said.

His kitchen was a little more lived-in looking today, and she apparently noticed. There were a couple of cups, a small bowl, a spoon, and a few other things in the sink from their dinner last night and breakfast this morning, draining. She had to know most of it was Holly's stuff. Certainly the cups, bowl, and spoon were too small to be his. The tray to her high chair was also on the counter next to the sink because he'd washed that, too. He'd made her pancakes this morning and while she'd eaten them without becoming a sticky mess from head to toe her tray was not in the same condition by the time she was done eating.

"Everything all right?" he asked.

"Yes," she said, handing him his keys. He took them, leaning toward her and gave her a quick kiss.

"Hi," he said.

"Hi," she said.

He chuckled softly at the sight of her blushing. It wasn't even a real good kiss as far as their kisses went. He was just being careful in front of Holly and she seemed to understand that. He'd only kissed her because Holly was facing the door over his shoulder otherwise he probably wouldn't have done it.

"So, what time did you wake up this morning anyway? I was more than surprised you called me so early." He slid his hand over hers lightly, settling his over her thigh. He was glad when she placed hers over his, lacing her fingers through his.

"I couldn't sleep anymore," she said with a shrug. "I woke up about nine I guess."



"I guess that means I didn't talk to you too long on the phone then."

"No, you didn't," she said.

He had no idea where her room was in relation to her parents' bedroom or whether her phone ringing would wake them up. So, he'd called a few times after ten o'clock, only letting it ring a couple of times before hanging up. She'd answered around eleven, which was about the time he'd planned on giving up trying to get a hold of her.

"I was surprised you were home so early."

"I told you last night, the party was kind of boring," she said with a shrug. "Some people are heading back today so they couldn't be out as late."

"I suppose."

"Yeah. And, I guess, I don't know, how many parties with the same people can I go to in a week?"

"Do you really want me to answer that?"

She laughed softly.

"No, I know what you'd say. One is too many."

"That's exactly what I'd say. So, is that where your parents think you are tonight again?"

"Well, eventually, yes."

He sighed softly.

"It's not worth pissing my mom off when I'm only here for another week."

"I know. It's just so stupid. It'd be one thing if I was trying to do the things she thinks I'm doing that would lead to you getting pregnant."

"I know. She'll get over it eventually."

"Maybe. Maybe not."

"You're right, I don't know not really. As my dad pointed out to me the other night, Christopher has gone off to Colorado to be a ski bum for the winter so Mom is kind of stressing about our image."

"He did what?" John said with a chuckle.

"I didn't tell you that?"

"No, you left that bit of gossip out."

"Yeah. He didn't like his job, quit, and went off with some friends to Vail to ski for the winter."

"Oh, I bet your mom just loved that."

"Not so much, no. He left in October sometime. He was gone already when I ran into you two I think," she said, trying to remember. "Maybe the next week he left. It was pretty close, though."

"Huh. Is he liking it?"

"I don't know. I haven't talked to him much. He doesn't have long distance so he can't call me except to call collect and I'm not paying for his collect calls."

"Really? Christopher Standish has to resort to collect calls?"

"Yeah. He was busing tables I think."

He chuckled again. "Thank you for the laugh, Princess."

"You're welcome, but you can see why Mom might be a little … anxious."

"Yeah, I guess I can understand. Hopefully, she'll mellow out when you don't come back from school in May five or six months pregnant."


They spent about two hours at the aquarium. Much more than that and John was pretty sure they'd exceed Holly's patience. She did very well, but she just wasn't as into the fish and stuff as he thought she'd be. Maybe in another year or two. Claire had been very tolerant and patient. He was surprised. More than once he expected her to say she'd had enough and either ask him to take her home or walk out on them of her own accord and take the train home or something. Holly hadn't been bad, but being a Saturday during Christmas break it was crowded and she couldn't always see so she got cranky a time or two. She also wasn't really used to walking for that long so she repeatedly asked John to pick her up. Well, as much as tugging on his pant leg was asking him to pick her up. She'd cried once, but it was short-lived.

Regardless, he was surprised Claire stayed. He wasn't sure he would've if the situation was reversed. She'd admitted she'd never been around kids before in her life. He hadn't either for that matter, but he was used to Holly by now obviously.

"You still want to get lunch?"

"Sure," she said.

"That doesn't sound too enthusiastic."

"John. I'm fine. Pick wherever you want to go eat."

"All right," he said.

"Really? You want to go to McDonald's?" she asked.

"It's the Rock 'N Roll McDonald's." He glanced at her. "You've been already, I suppose."

"Well, yeah," she said.

"Well, we haven't been. I don't know when I'll ever get down here again so indulge me."

"It's fine, just surprising. It's pretty expensive."

"I've heard that. I'd just like to say I've seen it."

"Sure," she said.

It was crazy busy as could be expected on a Saturday afternoon.

"Tell me what you want and where you're going to try to get seats for us. I'll order and bring the food over."

"Are you sure?" John asked.

"She's not going to stand patiently in line for all of these people no matter how fast they are it's going to be ten or fifteen minutes at least."

"All right," he said, pulling money out of his wallet as he told her what to order for them. He took Holly around then, looking at the various pictures and stuff on display there. It was, even he had to admit, pretty cool. It'd opened a couple of years ago and he'd heard people their senior year talk about coming down here to see it but he'd never been. It certainly wasn't some place he'd choose to come by himself.

Claire eventually found them and they sat and ate. She'd been right, Holly would've probably had a meltdown standing in a line like there'd been to order.

"So you hadn't been to the aquarium before today either, had you?"

"Uh, no," he said with a shrug.


"No reason to go really. Obviously she's still too little really."

"Yeah, but…"

"I didn't do field trips, Princess. Don't you remember that?"

"Not really," she said with a frown. He could see her trying to think back. It'd been junior high the last time they did whole-grade field trips so it was going back a few years. Eighth grade the class went to Washington D.C. as a group. John hadn't gone on that either. He'd known when the permission slip and informational packet had been given to him that he wouldn't be going so he hadn't even bothered to give it to his mom. What was the point?

They headed back to his apartment after lunch. He had to admit, they'd timed it pretty well because Holly was about crashed when they got to his place. Claire unlocked the door for him so he wouldn't have to jostle her too much. He'd already slid her shoes off so all he had to do was set her in her crib and take her coat and hat off. He closed her door, leaving it open a little bit and went to the living room.

"You sticking around?" he asked.

"I'd planned on it. Unless you wanted me to leave?"

"No, I just wasn't sure. Four hours may be more than you can take."

"She's fine, John. You're fine."

"Well, I think she's fine, but she's mine and I don't really have a choice. You do."

"I'm not leaving."

"All right," he said, offering her his hand. "I have an idea."


"Uh huh. She's taking a nap. She'll be down for a couple of hours at least."


"We could take one, too."

"You want to take a nap with me?"

"Well, if we don't fall asleep right away I wouldn't complain about that."

She smiled a bit at that, taking his offered hand. He leaned in and kissed her. God, he'd wanted to kiss her all day, but he'd been hesitant to do it. For Holly's sake as well as for hers. He didn't want to make her uncomfortable or to make people think the three of them were together. More together than they already obviously were doing the stuff they did today. He'd thought of that about twenty minutes into their time at the aquarium. People would see them together and assume. He wasn't sure Claire thought of that or cared if she did. He couldn't imagine she'd be thrilled to be mistaken for Holly's mom.

She slid her arms around his neck, pressing into him and he groaned softly at the feel of her against him. It had really been too long, but she'd affected him the same way back in March, too. Had he known the day of detention that he'd never be alone with her again he might not have put a stop to things as he had done. He really thought he'd get more than a couple of hours with her.

Then, they probably wouldn't be here now because she would've found out about Holly eventually and likely would not have reacted well.

He slid a hand to the front of her blouse, expecting her to slap him or at the very least pull away. He had to do it, though. He'd been too curious for too long what she'd feel like, how he'd fit around the swell of her breast. She pressed into his hand, moaning softly into his mouth. Not at all the response he'd been anticipating.

He hadn't tried the other night. He wasn't sure why other than he'd promised her she could trust him. He didn't want to do anything to violate that trust. Today wasn't the other day anymore and they weren't laying down in his bed. Yet. He really wanted to get her there.

He shifted a bit, using his other hand to undo a couple of the buttons on her blouse. His groan wasn't at all soft or controlled as he slid his hand inside her blouse to touch her like that. She gasped, breaking the kiss, and he assumed that was it.

She kissed his jaw, working her way to his ear and the spot on his neck she'd left him a hickey on the other night. It was just about gone, too, and if he wasn't mistaken she was kissing him in about the same spot.

He took that as a sign that she was alright with what he was doing and worked the buttons on her blouse, letting it fall open when he'd reached the waist of her skirt. He slid it out, working the last of the buttons. She hadn't moved her mouth from his neck and didn't even when he worked the clasp on her bra. He was glad it was one of the front closing ones. That undone, too, he slid his hand over a breast groaning softly at the feel of her against the palm of his hand.

She slid her mouth a little lower along his neck and started sucking again in the new spot, so he guessed she was okay with him doing this. He tilted his head a little, giving her easier access to the spot she was focused on at the moment. His fingertips slid along her peak, stroking and brushing over it, causing her to whimper against his neck.

He chuckled softly at that.

"Not funny," she whispered, kissing his ear.

"No, it's not," he said softly. "My couch might be better."


"Yeah, you know, safer."

"I don't think I want safer."

"You sure?"


He drew his hand away, regretting it almost immediately because he didn't want to stop touching her yet. He hoped he wouldn't have to for a while once they got into his room. She took his offered hand as he led her in there, closing the blinds. She sat on the bed, watching him as she slid her arms out of her blouse.

"I could help you do that," he said.

"You're all the way over there."

"Not for long," he said.

"You have your own stuff to take off."

"That's easily fixed," he said, drawing the shirt he wore up over his head and off. He dropped it at his feet, getting a surprisingly nice feeling at the way she was staring at him. Like she liked what she saw. Of course, the feeling was mutual. He really liked what he saw when she set her blouse and bra over the stand next to his bed.

She stood then, reaching behind her.

"No," he said quickly.

"What?" she asked. He'd laugh if he wasn't so nervous right now at the fact she sounded confused and a little insulted.

"I want to do that," he said.

"Oh," she said, blushing. She drew her hands away from behind her, though. He'd noticed at the aquarium that the skirt she wore zipped in the back. He'd never thought of unzipping a skirt as being potentially erotic before, but the idea of being behind her while he unzipped it and then slid it off of her was pretty damned appealing right now.

Then, it might have something to do with the fact he hadn't done even this much since Betty had told him she was pregnant with Holly.

"God, you're beautiful," he said as he slid a hand along her breast, lower along her stomach to her hips. His other hand joined that one then at the small of her back as he kissed her. She kissed him back, seeming to be as needy as he was as he worked the zipper down and then the skirt off. He'd never paid attention to the benefits of skirts before. If they'd done this before he wasn't altogether sure he wouldn't have just taken her like that, half dressed. Then that might be the two years abstinence talking. He couldn't be sure.

She touched him, but she wasn't nearly as full-on in her exploration of him as he was of her. He swore he wanted to touch every inch of her as he slid his hands along her calves, up to her thighs once she'd stepped out of the skirt. He peeled her panties off and she cried out when he slid his mouth over her nub there. Her fingers at his shoulders dug in a bit as he worked his tongue over the sensitive spot. He drew away long enough to encourage her to sit at the edge of the bed and went right back to what he was doing.

God, she was everything he knew she'd be. Responsive and wet for him as he worked his tongue lower along her lips, sliding in between them enough to feel and taste her wetness there. He encouraged her to spread her legs a bit more and she came almost immediately afterward.

He used his free hand to work his jeans open before reaching to the stand she'd set her blouse and bra on. He opened the drawer, grabbing a rubber packet. He'd bought them yesterday on his way home from work not knowing if he'd need them but he sure as hell didn't want to need them and not have one. That was the main reason he'd stopped her from doing what she seemed to have in mind the other night. He didn't want her to question whether he wanted to or not if they got beyond kissing and he stopped things from getting to this point.

Wanting to hadn't been part of the equation back in March. Not being prepared for having sex on school grounds by carrying a rubber in his wallet that day was. He hadn't been willing to admit that to her then either, which probably led to her thinking he didn't want to or didn't find her attractive.

He tore the packet open, sliding it over his hard on before standing to slide his jeans and boxers off the rest of the way. She shifted more onto the bed and he joined her after that.

He kissed her hip, sliding his tongue along her abdomen and up, finding a breast.

"You're sure, Princess?"

"God, yes," she said.

He slid his mouth to the top of her breast, sucking on the skin there as he slid inside of her. He stopped momentarily, biting her lightly as he thrust slowly in and out of her. He was fine until she brought her legs up to his waist, wrapping them around him there. She moved against him, drawing him in deeper.

"Does that mean you don't want slow?"

"I'm fine," she said softly.


She laughed softly at that, brushing her cheek against his shoulder before kissing him there. She brought her mouth to his then.

"I don't think I want slow," she whispered before kissing him.

Slow would have been the wisest course of action. Her inexperience aside, over two years left him kind of wanting to be in her as deep as he could get. She didn't stop him and in fact made some of the most arousing gasps he'd ever heard as he moved inside of her.

If he'd been smart he would have thought of something, anything but how good she felt around him. And how good she felt responding to him, moving against him, brushing her breasts against his chest, and clinging to him. He didn't want to think of anything else though because fuck if she didn't feel as good as he thought she would back in March.

"Where are you going?" he asked when he came back from the bathroom.

"I should get dressed."

He frowned. "Why?"




"Isn't going to wake up and get herself out of her crib. Not yet anyway."

"I know, but…" she was having a problem with the clasp on her bra, which told him something was wrong because how difficult could doing that be to someone who'd done it every day for years now.

"Wait. You're leaving?"


"I'm sorry. Did I do something wrong here?"


"Okay. Then why are you leaving?"

"I don't know."

"We had plans, didn't we? I mean, you suggested the aquarium, but I assumed our plans for tonight were still on."

"I know. Yes."

"Then what's the problem."

"I wasn't planning on…"

"I wasn't either! That still doesn't tell me why you're leaving."

"I don't want you to think …"

"Think what?"

"I don't know. It's just you kiss so well and God I wanted to do that so badly that day in March. You said no the other night again, I was positive you weren't going to today either."

"So I did do something wrong? I shouldn't have? You didn't want to?"

"I did."

"Then what's the problem?"


"Okay, Princess. Slow down. Holly's not going to be awake for another hour yet at least. I still want to have dinner with you and rent a movie or something."

"Please don't just to be nice to me."

"Just to be nice to you? I'm not sure what that even means."

"I don't know."

"You think I'd want you to leave?"

"I don't know!"

"Okay, let's pretend in some universe where I wouldn't want to do that again maybe later I would want you to leave without doing what we'd had planned. You think I'd want you to leave now?"

"I just don't want you to be uncomfortable."

"Uncomfortable? You getting dressed like we did something wrong makes me uncomfortable."

"I'm sorry," she said. She was crying now and he had no idea what the hell to do with that. She'd cried the other night, but it hadn't been because of him or anything he'd done.

"Hey," he said, going to her. He stopped her from continuing to try to fasten the stupid bra. "You're fine. I don't want you to go. Honest. I have no intentions of you leaving here before you absolutely have to. You gave up a party for me, I need to make sure you don't regret that."

She laughed at that, but it didn't quite come out a full-on laugh.

Fuck. Did she really think he'd want her to just leave? What had he done to make her think that?

"I've just never…"

"Yeah, I know. Trust me, I'd let you know if I wanted you to go, Claire. I don't."

She sniffled and he grabbed the shirt he'd taken off, wiping her eyes and nose with it.

"You said my name, you must mean it."

"Of course I mean it. Geez. I'm not an asshole."

"Yeah, but…"

"But nothing. I'd love it if you could stay the night, call your parents and tell them you're staying at a friend's or something."



"I could."


"If you really want me to."

He sighed a bit at that. Did he want her to? Yes. He had no doubt in his mind he wanted her to stay the night, but he was a little afraid letting her stay here tonight and then her going back to school next week would be bad.

"I do," he said. Fuck it. He only lived once.

"And Holly?"

He laughed softly at that. "Holly won't understand that you're wearing the same thing in the morning you were today."

"Thank you," she said.

"For what?" he asked with a frown.

"Your shirt," she said.

"The princess needs a handkerchief I find her one."

Return to Top

***Chapter Seven***
Word Count: 6,523

March 1985

"Everything all right, John?" John Pruitt asked him.

"Fine. Why?" he asked.

"You're not your usual self."

"Compared to what?"

"Well, you're not the chattiest person I've ever met, but you'll have coffee with Dawson and me in the morning and talk about the Bulls or the Blackhawks game like we do."


"Everything all right with your little girl?"

"She's fine."

"All right," Pruitt said. "Time for me to get on the road anyway. Dawson's hoping I'll get him some business tonight."

"He's planning on being here late?"

"Yeah, I think so. You know him, he has nothing else to do."

John grunted at that. Dawson had mysteriously been not around two weekends ago. He'd left the garage early, letting Pruitt and John lock up. He never did that. Pruitt had no idea where Dawson was off to and he hadn't offered the information. Nothing about what he'd done or where he'd gone for the night.

Or the weekend.

Somewhere in the back of John's mind was that he'd gone to visit Claire. He had no information to base that on, but fuck if it wasn't something Dawson would do. Because John couldn't. Well, he could, but just what he wanted to do, go visit her with Holly along with him.

He didn't think Dawson would do that. He did know that Dawson liked her more than a little. That day she'd come here to pick up her purse proved to John that Dawson wasn't just fucking with Claire to get a rise out of John. He was at the least genuinely attracted to her. John could understand that.

He just didn't think Claire would really want to see him again with Holly along the entire time. So, he settled for the occasional phone call. They never talked long. In fact, he wasn't altogether sure she enjoyed talking to him that much. He thought she did, but she was busy doing things.

"You staying late tonight, John?" Dawson asked from his office.

"I can," John offered. He didn't mind the extra hours at all. It wasn't as if he had anything to go home for. His friend Jeremy had asked him to do something, but John wasn't going to turn down extra money if it was offered to him.


"Sure," John said, pulling out his wallet.

"Nah, I got it. I have to eat anyway, getting a large versus a medium isn't that big of a price difference. I wasn't sure I was going to stay tonight or not so didn't bring anything extra with me for dinner."

"All right," John said, getting back to work. They were closed as far as people bringing their cars in, but there was someone who couldn't pick up their car until after six o'clock Dawson was staying open for. John had to admit, his boss wasn't so bad most of the time. Of course, since he was waiting for the customer to pick up her vehicle Dawson was taking the opportunity to get more work done.

"Can I, uh, ask you something?" John asked in the small room that was essentially John's lunch room since no one else ever used it. There were lockers and stuff in there, but all were empty except for the one John used. John hadn't figured out why Dawson didn't hire more people. He was a good mechanic and as far as John could tell basically a fair one. He'd get tons more business if he had the staff to support it.

"Sure, shoot," Dawson said, setting a six pack of beer on the table next to the pizza box. John had no idea who delivered the pizza or how Dawson convinced them to pick up a six pack on the way, but he took one of the cans and popped it open.

"Have you talked to Claire lately?"

"Lately?" Dawson shrugged, regarding John as he opened a can, too. "I'd love to fuck with you and say yes, but no I haven't in a couple of weeks I guess."

"But since she went back to school?"

"Uh, yeah, a few times. She didn't tell you that?"

"No, she doesn't say much when we talk."

"I see," Dawson said.

"So, what does it mean when a woman doesn't call you back? I mean I know what it means when a guy doesn't call a woman back."

Dawson laughed and John shook his head.

"Forget I asked, all right."

"No, John, you asked. I don't know what to tell you. You haven't talked to her since she left for school?"

"Well, I've talked to her, but only because I've called her."

"You've called her?"

"Yes. She hasn't called me."

"She hasn't called me either."

"You've called her?"

"Yes," he said. "I told her I wasn't going to just go away."

"Thanks," John said.

"Hey, I don't have a kid or anything else. Someone your age that may be a lot to digest. Until I know for sure she has her mind set on you, or anyone else for that matter, I'm not going to let her completely forget about me."

"What did you even talk about?"

Dawson shrugged. "Nothing. She told me about her classes. I told her about work."

"You haven't, like, gone to see her?"

"No," Dawson said.

"Would you actually do that?"

"If she asked me to? Sure I would. If she doesn't ask me to, no. I may be a dick but I'm not an asshole."

"The difference being just calling the girl I like versus going to see her?"

"Pretty much. And you never told me until now you liked her."

"I needed to say it for you to know?"

"No, but I wasn't sure you were willing to admit it to yourself. If you weren't, why shouldn't I?"

"I don't want to. I saw her in October, picking out a pumpkin with Holly and figured I'd never see her again. And then she shows up here."

"Have you called her old man yet?"


"That's real nice what she did for you. I know her dad's name. He has an excellent reputation and he's not cheap either."

"I know," John said. "He's pawning the paperwork off on someone in his firm who does family law, but he said he'll go to any court appearances with me. He seemed to think it should be done pretty soon here."

"Again, very nice of her."

"Yeah, well, I thought so, too. I don't understand it."

"Maybe she doesn't want to compete with a kid."

"Then why do anything with me? She knew I had Holly in October and that I wanted to try to get custody of her at least one day."

"Maybe she didn't think it would be a problem at first. Maybe she's just busy. Maybe she doesn't know your schedule so doesn't call. Maybe she doesn't call guys, believe it or not there are still women out there like that."

"Maybe. I have an answering machine, it's not like I wouldn't call her back if she left a message."

"You asked me a question, so I'm going to ask you some questions. Unless you don't really want advice. Were you just wondering if I'd gone to see her?"

"A little," he said. "You disappeared a couple Fridays ago."

"Believe it or not, I do things once in a while. My sister was in town. I picked her up from the airport for my mom. She doesn't like driving at night."

"I didn't know you had a sister."

"I have a niece and nephew, too."

"Huh," he said. That put a whole different slant on Dawson. John had never really seen him as a person before. He was his boss and he was a hell of a mechanic, but he'd just never seen him as anything else but those things.

"So, she spent the night?"



"Uh," he said, mulling over the potential for it backfiring if he answered the question. If he told Claire that he'd told her she could get pissed at him for that. Then it was a little different her not calling him with and without sex involved. "Yes," he said finally.

"Debating on answering that?"

"Pretty much. I swear to God you tell her I'm talking about her or something I'm going to quit."

"It'd be a solid plan, a bit devious, but I don't want to get her by resorting to deviousness and passing on gossip. I don't get the impression you have a lot of friends to talk to or you'd be talking to one of them not me about this."

"Not really, and the few I have know her so I can't really talk about her to them. She has a … reputation."

"Right. I can see that about her, especially given who her dad is. So, was it good?"

"Fuck, man, I'm not telling a guy who's interested in her the answer to that question."

"Well, maybe she's not calling you because it wasn't?"

John had wondered about that. His experience before Betty wasn't vast and two years of nothing left him wondering if maybe she hadn't been impressed. Having orgasms didn't necessarily mean she liked it. He liked to think he knew what he was doing, but what he knew at fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen may not have been applicable to being eighteen and an eighteen year old woman.

"I really don't think that's the case."

"What was your deal anyway?"

"My deal with what?"

"The two of you. I mean, anyone who has eyes can see you guys are attracted to each other."

"She's an attractive woman. What's not to like?"

"Yeah, but the feeling's mutual."

"We went to school together."

"That can't be all. You don't end up having sex with someone randomly. I mean, I would end up having sex with someone randomly. You, however, kind of have your plate full, and I don't hear you talking about picking girls up over the weekend."

"Because I have my daughter every weekend."

"Thank you for making my point for me."

John summarized the day of detention as best as he could, which seemed to fill in a lot of blanks for his boss.

"Maybe she was just curious about you?"

"So the steps leading up to that were just a ploy? She finds out where I work, just on your last name by the way that I didn't even realize I'd mentioned, comes here to give me her dad's information. For what? To lead up to sex with me and never calls me again?"

"Guys always get a bad rep as far as that loving and leaving thing goes, but women do it, too."

"She thought I wanted her to leave afterward."

"Did you?"

"What? Do you think I'm a fucking moron? Would you want her to leave?"

Dawson laughed.

"So you hung out? She spent the night and then she left the next morning?"

"Yeah. She ate pancakes with us, which Holly probably wouldn't complain about her being there because she got pancakes two mornings in a row. We went out the Thursday before she left and I haven't seen her since."

"I really don't know what to tell you. If it was me, I'd drive there and see her, but I don't have a daughter. What are you thinking of doing?"

"I don't know! I don't know what it means."

"Maybe she doesn't want you to think it means anything."

"Women are so fucking mental when it comes to this shit."

"Women are? You're the one sitting here talking to me."

"If I'm mental it's her fault! Who the fuck does that shit?"

"Maybe she has her reasons. I don't know. Do you know what dorm she lives in?"

"Yes," John said. She had given him that information.

"So you could potentially find her if you needed to. Say you got a day or two off work."

"You're going to give me time off from work to drive to Iowa?"

"Are you going to tell her how you actually feel about her?"

"I don't know how I feel about her. We've only had one real date."

"You know you like her. I'd say if you're having sex with her that's a pretty definite feeling."

"Well, yeah."

He shrugged.

"Well, it's about two hundred miles from here to there."

"You've routed it?"

"I did."

"Man, you really have no moral compass, do you?"

"Not really. Yet, if you wanted to drive that two hundred miles and come back Wednesday in time to have your daughter I think I'd be all right with that."


"Maybe I'm just a true romantic at heart."

"Uh huh."

"Or maybe it's just fucking obvious that you two like each other. I don't know what her deal is. She hasn't mentioned you the few times we've talked at all. So, I don't know."

"And you'd give me two days off? Holly had an ear infection and you told me if it happened again I'd need a doctor's note."

"That's not what I said. I said if you called in the day before or after a holiday again to give yourself a longer weekend I would. And, well, I don't know what else to tell you. You could write her a letter, but that wouldn't really solve anything. You can't go see her on the weekend. Well, you could, but I'm sure your daughter's mom would freak out if you didn't take her for a weekend."

"Yes, she would."

"So that leaves the week. You're just lucky to have a flexible boss."

"Is that what you are?"

"I am. However, I make no assurances that this isn't a one-time offer. You don't take me up on it and she calls me next week wanting me to come visit her I'm not sure I'd say no or tell you about that."

"Why do you like her anyway? I mean, you don't even know her."

"She's attractive. Obviously, that's what caught my eye to begin with. Women like her don't walk through the doors of this garage often. I never figured I'd see her again after the first time she came here looking for you. She came back. You weren't here. I'm single. Why not?"

John sighed. He'd like to say he didn't understand, but he had to admit he might have been inclined to do the same thing if he was in Dawson's shoes.

"I guess I'd better not finish this then if I'm driving two hundred miles tonight."

Dawson chuckled. "See you Thursday then. I'm not sure if I should wish you good luck or not."

John wasn't one hundred percent certain he was actually going to do it until he was at a gas station filling up his gas tank and buying himself a Coke and some chips to munch on for the road. He added a candy bar to his purchases for the sugar rush in case he really started getting sleepy. He had been up since six o'clock in the morning not having planned on making this drive. He'd have to have somewhere in mind to stay for the night because he wasn't sure what her reaction would be to him showing up at her dorm room close to midnight.

The drive was boring as fuck but uneventful. He was lucky it was a decent night weather-wise or it could have been a miserable drive. As it was before eleven when he got into town he made his way to the campus. It wasn't difficult to find. Finding a parking space near the dorms was the biggest challenge.


What the fuck was he even doing here?

He kind of had to know what was going on, though. If she was reacting to something she thought he was expecting or wanting or what. If it was just that she didn't think she should call him, fine. At least he'd know. She was going to Mexico next week for spring break so it wasn't as if he'd be able to talk to her the next time she was home. She wouldn't be home again until May. If she slammed the door in his face, well at least he'd know. And he supposed he'd laugh at himself for driving his ass all the way here for that. It'd probably serve him right for not being able to put into words what he wanted or even felt for her before she'd come back here.

He was surprised there were as many people walking around at this time of night, but then he supposed that's what people who went to college did. Stay up and out late. He stopped someone to find out which way her dorm was. They didn't question why a random person was asking where a dorm was so he supposed he didn't appear suspicious.

There was no one in the hall when he got to her floor. He debated the wisdom of this, just showing up here. Dawson could've known something and set him up to piss her off. John didn't think so, though. Not really. While he got the impression his boss was genuinely attracted to her he didn't think he was really doing more than fucking with John because he could and seemed to enjoy doing it.

He knocked, only because he wasn't going to chicken out after driving over two hundred miles to get here. He'd been up since six o'clock in the morning and would have been about ready for bed right now if he hadn't come here. In fact, he would have been lying in bed watching some TV before drifting off if he was home right now. So, he better follow through or Dawson would laugh at him. He didn't want to give Dawson anything to laugh about when it came to Claire.

He had to admit, the look on her face when she opened her door and saw him standing there was pretty much worth the drive. To say he'd succeeded at surprising her was a severe understatement.

"John! What are you doing here?"

"Coming to see you."

"Well, obviously. It's eleven o'clock at night. You have to work in the morning."

"I'm off for a couple of days."

"Oh. Is everything okay?"

"Yes. Why?"

"Well, that you're missing work."

"I, uh, no, everything's fine. I told Dawson I needed a couple of days. Here I am." He wasn't sure how often she and Dawson actually talked. For that matter, John wasn't honestly sure they talked at all. It could've been Dawson pulling his leg, seeing what he'd do. He just hoped somehow his version of how he got here didn't come up in a conversation between those two and she realized that he'd been talking about her. Somehow he wasn't too sure she'd like that.

"Why didn't you call?"

"Well, I'm not sure I can explain my train of thought exactly."

"Do you want to come in?"

"Is your roommate going to get mad?"

"No. She dropped out last week."


That wasn't the response he was expecting at all. He was going to invite her to come with him, to help him find some place to stay for the next couple of nights. He'd been kind of hoping he could talk her into staying with him, too. He stepped into the room then, glancing around. Sure enough there was absolutely nothing in the room that wasn't blatantly obvious it belonged to Claire. She'd even taken over the second closet John noticed and scoffed a bit at that.

"Yeah. I don't know. I can't say I'm going to miss her or that I'm disappointed. She withdrew from all of her classes and went back home."

"You can do that?"

"Well, you can, but you don't get your money back this late. If you got loans you still have to pay them back."

"Wow. I guess I never realized you could just quit."

"I don't understand it."

"Where was she from?"


"The winter maybe?"

"Maybe. I really don't know. We weren't real friendly."

"You lived together."

"Sure. We were assigned to live with each other. Come on. You know me. Do you really think I'd do well sharing space with someone else?"

"I guess not."

"That's one of the reasons I was never in my room. I always found somewhere else to go. I'd hang out at the library, the union, or other dorm rooms."

"I see," he said.

"Do you want a pop? I have some Coke or Sprite I think."

"I'm okay," he said. He noticed a small refrigerator under a counter. He'd finished the can of Coke he'd bought before leaving town about halfway into the drive so he'd stopped to use the bathroom at a gas station and gotten another can of Coke for the second hundred miles. He had more Coke in the past couple hours than he'd need for a while.

"You must be tired. That drive isn't fun not having worked all day."

"Yeah, it was pretty damned boring. Why'd you choose going to school in the middle of a bunch of corn fields?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. It's a good school. Far enough from home to be gone but close enough that I could go home for a weekend if I had to."

"I suppose."

He was quiet as he took in her room a little better. She clearly wasn't in bed as the light at her desk was on and she had a book open. She must have been studying then. Both beds were made up, but it was clear she was using her roommate's bed as more space to put things on like her backpack and stuff.

None of the posters on her wall surprised him. Except one.

"You like Ryne Sandberg?" he asked. That surprised the hell out of him. Not that she knew who he was or anything, but that she had a poster of him on her wall. The rest were actors or musicians. He was the only athlete on her wall.

"Yeah," she said.

"Okay," he said with a shrug.

Now that he was here he had no idea what exactly to say to her. They'd had a nice time when they went out back in January before she came back here. At least he thought they had. They'd gotten dinner and went bowling. He wasn't the world's greatest bowler, but neither was she so they'd had a decent time bowling pretty awful. Bowling had been her idea not his because she said she didn't want to go to a movie. He wasn't sure why, but he'd let her choose what she wanted to do.

She was quiet, probably trying to figure out what he was doing here. He was trying to do the same now that he was actually here and standing in her room.

She was watching him as he looked at everything.

"Not what you pictured?"

He shook his head, closing the space between them. He wasn't exactly sure how she'd react to him kissing her but damn if he was going to wait any longer to find out. He slanted his mouth over hers and she hummed softly as their tongues met. He understood how she felt. He always felt things when they kissed. Kissing her was definitely deserving of humming, or something.

He dropped a hand to her ass, tugging a bit on the shirt she was wearing only to discover she only had panties on underneath. He assumed she was wearing shorts.

"Why are you answering your door half-naked?"

"I assumed it was someone from my floor."

"Hmm," he said, finding her jaw.

"You don't believe me?"

"Oh, I believe you, it just seems strange."

"And you've never answered your door just wearing shorts?"

"Well, put like that…" he said, sliding his hand from her ass to the front of her panties.

"John," she whispered.

"Yeah," he murmured.

"Why are you here?"

"To see you?"

"Yeah, but," she said, stopping when he slid his finger over her nub. He chuckled softly, finding her neck and kissing her there. She moved her hands to his hair, sliding her fingers through it. He groaned softly against her neck as she pressed against his hand, sliding it a bit lower so he could enter her with a finger.

"Maybe I just missed doing that," he whispered against the spot on her neck he'd been kissing after she'd finished.

"It's not like you did it a ton."

"I think you underestimate how well I liked doing it and wanted to again."

"I see."

"And, okay, maybe I was thinking about you, wondering what you were doing out here in the land of corn."

"It's not that bad."

"Maybe not. You could prove it to me tomorrow by showing me around."



"Sure," she said.

"Well, I'd sort of planned on getting a room somewhere…"

"You can stay here."

"You won't get in trouble?"

She shrugged. "Not really. It's just tonight and tomorrow night, right?"

"Yeah. I'll go back Wednesday."

"Then you can stay here."

"You're not going to make me sleep in the roommate's bed, are you?"

She laughed softly, reaching up to kiss him.

"I think I can do better than that."

"Yeah?" he asked.

"Yes, but first you have to take your coat off. You didn't even do that," she said, working the zipper on his coat.

"Hey, I took my gloves off at least."

"I guess that's something."

"I think so."

"Are you going to tell me why you're really here?"

"I have no real reason beyond I wanted to see you. Really. And weekends are impossible."

"I know," she said.

"So, I was talking to Dawson and he suggested I come see you. So, here I am."

"He suggested that?"

"He did," he said.

"Huh," she said.

"That surprises you?"

"A little. Kind of. Not really."

"He likes you."

"You've said that before."

"You don't like him, though?"

"He's nice," she said, sliding his coat off.



"Am I nice?"



"Yes, like when you just did what you did. That was very nice."


"Yes," she said, kissing his neck.

"Enough I can again?"

"You can, but first I think I should return the favor," she said, sliding her hand lower to the front of his jeans.

"I think I like that thought," he whispered.

"Good," she said.

He watched as she worked the zipper on his jeans, unbuttoning the button, too. She reached for him and he gave a low moan in response. She hadn't done this their one night together. She hadn't seemed to really want to and he hadn't wanted to force the issue. Being inside of her was more than good enough if she wasn't ready to engage in some foreplay while disappointed he couldn't fault her for it.

"Am I doing…"

"Is he getting hard?"


"Then you're doing just fine," he said with a soft laugh at the ridiculousness of the question.

"I'm just…"

"You're fine. Trust me." It'd been so long since someone had done anything to him that it felt fucking amazing, but he wasn't going to say that. She'd think it was just because it'd been years not that it was her doing it. He was pretty sure it wouldn't have been this exciting if it was just anyone touching his dick right now.

He reached into his back pocket, grabbing his wallet. He slid the rubber packet out of it, very grateful he'd put one in there before he'd left. He wasn't going to since he hadn't been sure he'd even see her tonight never mind alone. He had more in his bag, but he was very glad he had this one on him right this second.

"You want to help put it on?" he asked as he tossed the wallet behind her on the counter she was leaning against.

"I don't know…"

"I know you don't know how. You can learn," he offered, tearing the packet open. He placed his hands over the hand touching him, showing her how to put it on and leave the bit of space at the tip. He lifted her up then, setting her on the counter.

"Fuck," he muttered as he slid inside of her. He tried to be considerate. It'd been a couple of months and she wasn't used to this, but damn if she didn't feel too incredible for him to think about doing anything but moving in her like he was so obviously supposed to.

He lifted her nightshirt up and off, setting it on the counter beside her so he could touch her. Months he'd itched to touch her again, feel the weight of her breast in his hand, to feel her peak harden as he stroked it, and to hear her groan as he ran his tongue over it right after doing it. She didn't disappoint him tonight, doing just that.

He slid a hand lower, over her taut stomach to her curls and the spot there he wanted to get more than just casually familiar with touching in the right way for her. He was learning, but a couple of times was nowhere close to making him an expert on what made her really get off. And he wanted to make her really get off. He didn't ever want her to think Dawson or anyone else could do it better for her.

"John," she cried out.

"Sorry," he muttered. Evidently that wasn't a good thing to think about right then. He'd gotten a little too enthusiastic with his thrusts. Thinking about her with Dawson did that to him, a face to put with a name of someone who was interested in her. There were others here on campus he was sure. None of whom had kids or responsibilities preventing them from seeing her whenever she wanted them to.

That thought led him to stop focusing the attention of his mouth on her breast and move to her neck. She tilted her head a bit allowing him better access so he had to believe she knew what he was doing and was granting him permission.

She slid her hand inside of his jeans and boxers, cupping his ass to bring herself closer to the edge of the counter and deeper into his thrusts. That was his undoing, hers too shortly after he finished.

"Why don't you ever call me," he murmured against her neck.


"Never once since you've been at school have you called me."

"I don't know," she whispered. "Is that why you're here?"

"Well, yeah. I mean, kind of. I mean I call you. We talk, have decent conversations. Okay, they're not hours long or anything, but I can't afford that. And I'm not a huge conversationalist. I think you know that. We went out a couple of times, didn't we? Okay. Once was with Holly, but it was still out. Right? We had a decent time?"

"I just was taught…"

"That's the only reason?"

"John. I wasn't sure if you'd want me to call you!"

"Why not?"

"Because, I don't know. I just wasn't."

"Well, I do. And then Dawson disappeared a couple of weeks ago early."

"He wasn't here!"

"I know that. Now. He told me that. He had to pick his sister up at the airport."

"Oh, that's right."

"God, I hate that you even know he has a sister. I didn't know that until today!"

"He mentioned it!"

"That means you've talked to him."

"He calls. I talk to him. You call. I talk to you."

"I don't like him calling you."


"I know. It's irrational and insane sounding. I still don't like it."

"I can't make him stop."

"I know that, too. I can."


"I want to go out with you."

"We did."

"No. I mean, I know we did. I want to, you know, go out with you. Come on. I'm not good at this, don't make me spell it out for you."

"Shut up," she said, pushing on his chest.


"You don't go out with people."

"You're right, I don't, doesn't mean I don't want to with you. You think I hauled my ass to Iowa because I like you as a friend?"

"Well, no, but…"

"You're already going out with someone?"

"No! You think I'd have sex with you if I was?"

"Well, I didn't really give you the chance to say no."

"No, but I put my hand on your…"

"Yes, you did and very well, too."

"Did I?"

"Yes! You think I had a problem with that?"

"I don't know."

"I liked it a lot."

"I'm sure I don't do it any differently than anyone else."

"Princess. If you had any idea how long it'd been since someone had done that."

"Now I know you're lying."

"I am not."


"What? You think I found out Betty was pregnant and I just kept fooling around with people?"

"You haven't since then?"



"Because it scared the fuck out of me!"


"I don't have an exact date or anything. It took Betty a few weeks to tell me and everything, but it's been over two and a half years at least since Holly will be two next month."

"Is she?"


"I didn't know."

"You want to come home for the weekend and have cake with us?"


"I don't have a lot of friends to give her a party with so it'd just be us."

"You're serious?"

"God yes, Claire. Do I look like I'm being sarcastic?"

"I guess I figured we finally had sex you'd get over whatever interest you had in me."

"That's why you haven't called me? You figured I'd stop calling you eventually?"

"Kind of," she said. "I don't know what you want from me. You act jealous, but you don't get that way."

"Evidently with you, I do. And you can call me. Anytime you want to. You can call me to say good night if that's all the time you have. You can call me to tell me about a test you aced because I know you don't bomb them."

She laughed softly.

"You could call me to tell me you want to do that again."

"Shut up."

"You could! I wouldn't complain about that type of phone call before bed."

"You wouldn't!"

"All right, maybe not that. But the rest."

"I'll work on it."

"Just the calling part? Or does that go for the going together part, too?"

"I've never had a boyfriend."

"Funny. I've never had a girlfriend."

"One thing, though."


She pointed to her trash can.

"You don't need those."

"I'm sorry?"

"I," she shrugged. "I went to Health Services when I came back here in January."

"Yeah, I've been told that before."

"I'm not lying to you! You can watch me take them."

"We had sex one night and you did that? You were thinking I was going to stop calling you eventually, so why would you do that?"

"In case you didn't stop calling me eventually?"

"Not for someone else?"


"I swear to God, if you're into my boss…"

"I'm not! I went out on one date with him! That was it. He calls me. I think he's lonely. I don't know."

"Yeah, well, he can find someone else to talk to."

"You want me to tell him to stop calling me?"

"I want you to make it perfectly clear you have a boyfriend the next time you talk to him."

"Do you trust me that I'm taking it?"

"Yes," he said.


"Because you're not Betty. You don't want a baby before you're twenty, and I really don't think you have it in you to tell me you're taking it and not be."

"Thank you. If you want to see me take it…"

"I want to see you do a lot of things with your mouth, Princess, taking a pill is not foremost on my mind."

"John," she said, blushing.

He chuckled a bit, lowering his mouth to hers.

"I should go get my bag if I can really stay here."

"You can."

"You'll be here when I get back?"


"You sure you wouldn't prefer a hotel room?"


"Your friends, they're going to know."

"Well, they won't know we're having sex. Besides you gave me a hickey while we were doing that!"

"You let me!"

"I've always wondered what it would feel like during sex."

"Did it feel good?"

"Strangely, yes."


"I don't know, yes."

"Hmm. We'll have to see if you think they feel good just by themselves."

"What do you mean?"

"Like just giving you one to give you one, not as a part of sex."

"Oh," she said. "You did already."

"Yes, but you weren't totally aware of what I was doing until afterward."

"Well, it felt good. I mean, both times."

He chuckled. "You do know they don't necessarily mean you're having sex, right?"

"I know that. I'm not a complete idiot."

"I know you're not an idiot. So is that a yes to cake with Holly and me?"


"Is that a yes for going with me? Please give me a better answer than sure."

"As long as it's not a knee jerk reaction to you thinking your boss has been driving here on weekends."

"It's not."

"Then yes."

"When you come to town that weekend."


"Don't tell your parents."

"But I… Oh," she said, realization dawning on her.



He grabbed her shirt from the countertop beside her, sliding it over her head. "Don't want you catching cold while I go get my stuff."

"Do you want me to come with you?"

"Do you want to?"

"Sure," she said.

"All right," he said.

He glanced at the little trash can while she got dressed.

"You debating on whether you really believe me?" she asked. She must have seen him looking at the discarded packet and rubber.

"Uh, no, just thinking that I wasted a shit ton of money buying a box of them."

"Well, if it'll make you feel better…"

"I should say yes. I should call myself all kinds of stupid. I swore I would never, ever believe being told that again."

"I know. I can imagine. I mean, I can't, but I can. I wouldn't blame you if you wanted to keep using them."

"We'll see," he said.

"Okay. I mean, I would totally understand."

"You wouldn't get mad? Think it means I don't trust you?"

"It might hurt a little, but I'm not the one with a child right now either so you can't let what I'd feel rule you."

"All right. Thanks for getting it."

"You don't have to thank me."

"Let's go get my stuff so we can go to bed."

"You want to go to bed?"

"I want to get in bed. Don't you have class tomorrow?"

"At nine," she said with a shrug. "I can be up for a while longer yet."

"I don't want you failing classes because of me."

"I won't, I promise."

"All right. One of us has to do better than being a mechanic with their life."

"The world needs mechanics, John."

"That it does."

Return to Top

***Chapter Eight***
Word Count: 4,037

"I've never eaten pizza half-naked before," she said.

"That is exceptionally good to hear," he said with a soft chuckle. Of course he already knew that so her saying so was beyond ridiculous.

"I know you would've preferred me fully naked."

"I would've. Maybe next time."

"When is the next time going to be?"

"I don't know. That's kind of up to you."

"Me? What do you mean?"

"Well, you're going to Mexico next week for Spring Break."


"I can't afford to take more days off from work."

"I know."

"That leaves weekends, but I have Holly. I could bring her here I guess, but even if I got a hotel room that wouldn't give us much privacy."

"I should ask you why you want privacy."

He slid a hand to her leg, pushing her shirt up as he moved up along her thigh. He had no idea why no one on her floor bothered them for the most part, but he wasn't complaining. Especially since he had to leave in like an hour if he wanted to get home and get any sleep tonight.

"You think I'm going to stop wanting to do that now that I have again?"

"You poor thing," she said.

"I know. It's awful."

"Are you sure you're going to be able to go two weeks?"

"No," he said, chuckling softly at her gasp as he slid a finger inside of her.

"That's not the right answer," she said.

"It's not?"

"No, considering we can't!"

"Oh, I'll wait. It'll just be a very long two weeks. You are coming home that next weekend, right?"

"I hadn't planned…"

He slid his mouth to a breast, licking her peak before focusing on a spot just above there.

"You're not playing fair," she said.

"You're not giving the right answer this time."

"I can't go home every weekend."

"I'm not sure I want you to go home any weekend," he whispered, nipping at her skin. He pushed the shirt she put on to eat the pizza over her head and off, tossing it to the floor before he positioned them so she was on top of him.

"John," she whispered. He knew she'd be prone to arguing with him about this, but God did he want to see her on top of him. Even if it was just for a little while. Hell, he'd take a minute just so he could have the visual of her riding him to take home with him.

"Two weeks, Princess, give a guy a break and let me watch you on top of me," he said.

She hadn't gotten brave enough to do this yet. She slid her hand along his length. She loved the feel of him, how hard he felt in her hand. She loved when his eyes fell closed as she circled the tip of him with her thumb. Every time she touched him like this that happened. At first she'd thought it'd just been because he'd gone so long, but his saying her name reassured her a bit. Especially since he never said her name normally.

She leaned down then, sliding her mouth along his chest up to his neck. She nipped at the skin there, sucking a bit as she continued to touch him. He didn't need the help getting any harder. He was already more than ready for her. She was, too, for that matter.

He cried out when she finally took him into her this way. She wasn't slow about it either, taking him into her in one quick push. He evidently like that a lot so she slid off of him completely and did it again.

He slid his hands to her hips, grazing them a bit before reaching around to cup her ass as she sat back a bit so he could watch her. His eyes opened then, evidently he hadn't thought she'd do that because he'd kept them closed until now.

"What are you embarrassed about?" he asked.

"You're staring at me," she said, knowing she was blushing terribly. It actually wasn't bad. In fact, it was pretty much the opposite of bad. She could touch him a lot easier this way and so could he. For a little while at least, she was in control, too. She didn't mind that at all, though she seemed to be about on the same page as he was and just wanting him inside of her. There and there.

"Well, yeah, you look very nice like this."

"Stop," she said.

"I will not besides I'm not the one in control anyway."

"Ha ha. That's not what I meant."

He chuckled softly.

He brought a hand to her breast, cupping it as he leaned up and brought his mouth to the other one. She cried out as he nipped her peak before licking and sucking on it. She slid her arms around his head not wanting him to stop doing that as she felt him move his hips under her a bit quicker than he had been to that point.

"Don't you dare stop," he said. "I'm just helping."

She whimpered softly, but kept riding him.

"That," he whispered. "Keep doing just that." She wasn't exactly sure what she was doing differently at that point than she had been up until then but she did her best to keep doing it. His hand cupping her ass gripped her tighter and his hips stilled for a second or two as he finished. He helped her finish once he had, which was fine with her.

She settled against him and he chuckled softly.

"Why are you laughing at me?"

"Not quite as much fun when you're the one doing all the work is it?"

"I don't know about that."

"Hmm. You liked it?"

"The work?"

"That, too," he said.

"Yes," she said.

"To both?"

"I liked it."

"That is very good to know because seeing you on top of me like this. I think that could help me get through a week or two from seeing you."


He shrugged, sliding a fingertip along her hip and thigh. "I like watching you. I like watching me go in you this way."

"You didn't…"

"Yeah, I know. I'll shoot myself if you call me in a month and tell me you're pregnant, but at least it would've been worth it I guess."

"I wouldn't do that…"

"I know you wouldn't and that's why I didn't."

"I wish you could come to Mexico with us."

"I'm not sure that'd be a good idea."

"Why not?" she asked.

"Because I'm not sure I'd let you out of our bed so it'd be an incredible waste of both our money."

"Hmm," she said.

"Do you have to tell your parents you come home that weekend?"

"No," she said.

"So, you want to come stay with me?"

"I could."

"How much trouble would you be in if they found out? Or saw you?"

"I don't know. What could they do? Ground me?"

"See, I told you being naughty can feel pretty good, Princess. You're getting the hang of things."

"I only want to feel good with you."

"And again, exceptionally good to know."

"What are you going to tell Erik tomorrow?"

"I'm not going to tell him anything. I mean, other than to find someone else's girlfriend to call."

"You're so mean."

"I am not! He knew I was into you and still called you."

"Did you tell him that?"

"Well, no!"

"You didn't tell me either."

"I'm not so good with the words, you know. I thought it was fairly obvious."

"Well, you have this reputation…"

"Yeah, well, I still think it was obvious."

"You could bring Holly here some weekend if you wanted."

"We'll work on that. I just," he shrugged. "Maybe I could swing it to have her all week and Betty can have her for the weekend."

"John, don't change your schedule because of me."

"Well, it'd be nice to see you."

"You'd still see me. She's a part of you. I get that. If you're going to be getting custody of her that's going to be pretty much every day. I get that."

"I know, I just, you're going to be home for the summer and the time we get alone is going to be pretty limited."

"I know," she whispered. "I'm not working so it's not like I can't go to your apartment when you come home and stuff."

"Right," he said.

"Have you talked to my dad lately?"

"Uh, last week. I'm supposed to call him this week, but I think I may wait until Monday."


"I don't know. Dads and their little girls. I don't have eighteen years' worth of experience, but I think I'd know if I was talking to a guy who just had sex with my daughter."

"You would not! Not over the phone."

"I'm pretty sure I would."

"Don't wait on my account, John."

"I'm not. I swear. I've already talked to Dawson about my schedule needing to change. I think he knew that was going to happen anyway. I'll lose out on some overtime, but maybe I can make it up by working Saturdays and having Betty take her for the day. How do you know Mrs. Kuzinski anyway?"

"What do you mean?"

"I guess what I mean to ask is how on earth do you know someone who does daycare out of their home in Shermer that doesn't know me?"

"Worried you were going to be the focus of someone's gossip?"

"Yes! I almost didn't call for that reason, but the price you quoted me…"

"I'm glad you called. Her daughter was closer to Christopher's age, but I was friends with her growing up, too. She went to St. James and Sacred Heart, though."

"Really?" he asked.

He shifted them so he was next to her on the bed. It was early for her to go to bed and he knew that. She'd walk with him to his car and come back up here to study for a while before going to bed.

"Yes. I promise they're not religious fanatics or anything, that's just where they wanted to send their kids to school."

"Oh, as long as they're not force feeding it to Holly I really don't care what they do with their time."

"Do you take her to church?"

"Uh no," he said. "I suppose that's something I should look at, but I haven't been as long as I can remember."

"Huh," she said.

"You go?"

"I haven't gone since being here. I mean on campus. I go at home, yes."

"Why didn't you go to St. James and Sacred Heart?"

"Mom and Dad didn't see the need to send me."

"I guess they were right about you."

"God, I'm going to miss you," she said.

"Aww, Princess, that'd be flattering if I didn't know it's just my dick you'll miss."

"Shut up."

"I'm going to miss you, too. You better behave yourself down in Mexico."

"I will."

"Send me a postcard?"

"I can, sure," she said.

"Preferably one with a picture of you in a bikini on the front."

"Uh no," she said.

"Hmm, do you have a bikini?"

"Yes," she said.

"Will I get to see you in it this summer?"



"That depends on how good you are."

"Do you need me to show you again how good I am, Princess?"

"You have to leave soon!"

"Not that soon."

"John," she said, but he knew as well as she did that she wasn't truly complaining. "You have to drive back home tonight and wake up real early in the morning."

"Two weeks, Princess."

"Oh all right," she said.

He chuckled. "That's what I like to hear. Enthusiasm."

"Give me something to be enthusiastic about."

"That I can do," he quipped before shifting them again so he was on top of her.


John was a little surprised his locker wasn't cleared out of his stuff when he got to work Thursday morning. He was sure to get there early. His stuff was still there, though, just as he'd left it Monday night.

John Pruitt was in Dawson's office with him, the two of them drinking coffee as they did most mornings before John headed out in the wrecker to drum up work for them.

"Everything all right, John?" Pruitt asked.

"Uh, yeah."

"Your little girl's okay?"

"Yeah, she's fine." He'd even called to talk to her yesterday since he wasn't picking her up for a change. Her grandma seemed okay with that, especially since John said he'd pick her up tonight on his way home. He'd have to drop her off again in the morning, but he knew Betty's parents still enjoyed their nights to themselves.

John regarded Dawson who hadn't said anything yet. He hadn't more than glanced at John in fact. He was rethinking his locker being cleared out. Maybe Dawson was going to make him do it himself.

"I was just wondering what you need me to start working on."

"Take your pick," Dawson said.

"All right."

"Everything all right?" he asked.

"Yeah," John said.

Pruitt was eyeing them both with interest. So Dawson hadn't told his friend why John had been off the last two days. That was interesting because John sort of got the impression those two talked all of the time. About everything. John certainly knew more about Pruitt and his wife than he ever wanted to know about anyone's marriage (including his own parents') by listening to the two of them.

"And, thanks," he said as an afterthought.

"Not a problem," Dawson said. "As long as you're not running off to Mexico next week anyway."

"Uh, no. I couldn't do that anyway."

Pruitt laughed at that. "Why would he run off to Mexico?"

"Evidently he wouldn't," Dawson said. "Then we're good."

"Right, thanks. I'll get to work then," he said.

"Did I miss something?" Pruitt asked as John left the office.

"Not really," Dawson said.

"All right. I suppose I should get to work, too."

"That would be a good idea, yeah."

"So everything worked out," Dawson asked a while after Pruitt left.

"Yes," John said. "You didn't really think I'd go to Mexico, did you?"

"Not really. If she'd asked you?"

"If she'd asked and I didn't have a job or Holly sure I'd go."

"You figured out how you're going to work the kid and her?"

"Nope," he said. He had no idea how he was going to work that. It was great in theory to think she'd come here on weekends, but he knew even for someone like her who didn't have money issues it would get expensive. Not to mention she'd have things to do at school on weekends like study for tests. And parties. And whatever else she did there.

"You're going to?"

"I'm going to try."

"I figured I'll start getting you out of here by five every night starting today."


"If you can stay later that's fine, but you need to get into the habit, too."

"I don't know how soon it'll be."

"With her dad helping you? I don't think it'll take too long."

"I hope not."

"When did you start working here anyway?"

"Uh," John said. "Ten months ago or so?" He couldn't remember exactly. "Why?"

"I'm feeling generous. I'm not going to dock you for missing Tuesday and Wednesday."

"Uh, thanks," John said more than a little surprised.

"Call it an early vacation."

"Sure," John said.

"Don't go quitting on me and make me regret being nice."

"Not quitting," John said.

Dawson chuckled a bit at that. "So, you're convinced I haven't been sneaking off to see her then?"

"Yes," John said. He couldn't deny it still bugged the crap out of him his boss had been calling her the past few months.

"Her mom going to freak out?"

"If she finds out she's seeing me? I'd say so, yeah."

"Not her mom," he said with a chuckle. John was glad he found the idea of Claire's mom finding out about him being her boyfriend humorous. John sure didn't. If there was anyone who … scared him for lack of a better word about this situation it was Mrs. Standish. "I meant your daughter's mom."

"Oh," John said. "I don't know. I don't know why she would."

"Not dating you and finding out someone else is spending quality time with her daughter may not be the same thing."

"Well, she should've thought about that before having sex with someone she wasn't involved with." Never mind he was sixteen he wouldn't be involved with her today more than likely anyway. "I never made any promises to her and she's a pretty shitty mother anyway. Her mom does most of the work."

"Oh, I know. I see how it is. I'm just wondering if you've thought on that."

John shrugged. He hadn't, not really. What could Betty do? Especially if he had custody of Holly and a lawyer on file like Claire's dad? She wasn't going to be able to get a better lawyer. Her parents weren't well off in the least. He didn't see her parents trying to get Holly back anyway. They loved her and everything, but he knew they were as tired of Betty as he was. He wasn't sure what would happen to her. He supposed he should care, but he couldn't find it in him to do that. He wasn't going to count on Claire's dad to do anything for him once the custody shit was done, but he'd still be the lawyer on record. He knew that much.

Betty's mom was surprised John was there so early to pick Holly up for the night.

"I have everything all ready for the weekend for you, John," she said.

"Thanks again, Mrs. Cummings. I'll have her here around seven tomorrow morning."

"We'll see you then."

"Sure. Is Betty home?"

"No," her mom said and judging by the sigh she wasn't at Jewel working.

"All right, well, I'll leave money with you tomorrow when I pick her up then." Lord knew Betty wouldn't be home on a Friday night.

"I'll give it to her," she said.

"Thanks," he said. He wished he could just give it to Betty's mom. She was the one who bought most of Holly's stuff anyway. Between John and Mrs. Cummings Holly had pretty nice things. John didn't spoil her by buying her Nikes or anything, but he had to admit when he shopped for her he'd thought more than once that he'd lucked out having a girl versus a boy. There were just a slew of things available for girls over boys.

He was a little readier for her to go to bed after her bath than he usually was. Most nights he had her he let her chill out with him on the couch until she fell asleep or she was so obviously tired he had to put her in his crib or feel awful.

He went to his room himself. He had two phones in his apartment. One was in the kitchen and the other was in his bedroom. He hardly used the damned things, but the one in his bedroom get used far less than the one in the kitchen. Talking to Betty while in bed did not appeal to him in the least.

Talking to Claire while in bed, on the other hand, appealed to him a lot.

'Hello,' she said.

"Hi," he said.

'Hi yourself.'

"At least I don't have to ask if it's you anymore."

'That is definitely one benefit of my having my own room now.'

He chuckled softly. "I'm sure that's the reason she left."

'You're probably right.'

"What are you going to do next year anyway?" he asked.

'I don't know. Get a place off-campus. I just, God, John I know it sounds terrible I'm just not made to share space with so many people.'

He snorted at that. "Princess, if you said anything different I'd think you'd fallen and hit your head."

'I haven't talked to Dad yet. I know he's hoping I'll stay on-campus again, but oh my God, what if I get someone worse next year?'

"Your dad will pay for it?"

'Yes,' she said.

"Don't you have a friend you could request as a roommate or something?"

'I do, but no one I'm sure I want to live with. I mean, we're friends. It's a great way to ruin friendships.'

"I suppose."

'How was your day?'

"Oh you know. The usual. Dawson let me go at five o'clock."

'He did? Why? Was he mad at you?'

"No, surprisingly. He said he's going to get into the habit of doing that."

'Oh,' she said.

"He's also paying me for the two days I was with you."


"Yes. He asked me how long I'd been working there and I said around ten months so he said to call it early vacation pay."

'I think he likes you.'

"Princess," he said cautiously.

She laughed then. 'Not in that way. Though I don't know, the two of you would be kind of pretty.'

"I'm not sure I ever want you to use the word pretty to describe any aspect of me."

'Relax, I'm teasing. I do think he likes you, though. He doesn't hire just anyone.'

"I know," he said, shaking his head a bit at the thought that she knew that, too. He really didn't like being reminded of the fact she and his boss actually, like, talked. About things. "You like knowing that stuff?" he asked.

'What stuff?' she asked, sounding confused.

"You know, about him."

'I'm not sure what you're asking me.'

He sighed. "Do I talk enough for you?"

She laughed softly.

"I'm not sure that was the answer I was going for."

'No, I'm sorry. It's just funny hearing you ask that question.'

"Glad I can be a source of amusement for you."

'What do you want me to say?'

"I don't know. I want you to answer the question."

'You talk enough.'

"So you don't want to know more things?"

'Like what?'

"I don't know! I've never done this before, but you seem to know about my boss and that was just one date. So that makes me wonder."

'You can say whatever you want to me, John.'

He huffed softly. "That's still not an answer."

'I've never done this before either.'

"I suppose there is that," he said.

'Where's Holly?'

"Asleep," he said.

'Oh,' she said.

"Why? Did you want to talk to her instead?"

'Well, if she could talk back to me I would, sure,' she said.

"Instead of me?"

'No, I just meant, you know I would,' she said.

"Ah, okay."

'John. Don't worry about Erik.'

"I'm not worried about him exactly. You seem to know things about him, though."

'I know things about you, too.'

"True," he said.

'You're fine. Talk to me as much or as little as you want. I was surprised you called tonight honestly.'

"You were?"

'Yes. I know you got in later than you planned last night.'

"It was worth it."

'I agree.'

"I'm very glad to hear that. So, you leave Sunday right?"

'Yes,' she said.

"All right. Well, I'll talk to you Saturday then probably."

'I'm glad you called,' she said.


'Yes,' she said.

"I'm glad I did then and I'm glad Holly cooperated and went to bed without a fight."

'Are you going to bed now, too?'

"I've been thinking about it since about seven o'clock, but I knew if I let her fall asleep that early she'd be awake at about four in the morning."

'I'm sorry.'

"More than worth being a little tired today for."

'Have a good day tomorrow.'

"I will," he said.

They hung up then. John didn't even bother getting out of bed to change out of his clothes or anything. He was way more tired than he was going to admit to her. He loved playing with Holly, but after being up until after midnight and driving a couple hundred miles he was ready to just crash and burn.

Return to Top

***Chapter Nine***
Word Count: 5,109

John was sorely tempted to ignore the buzzer. Nothing good could come of someone buzzing to get into his apartment at…

What time was it anyway?

He glanced at his alarm clock and realized it was almost one o'clock in the morning.

Then the idea that the police being there because something had happened to Betty or her parents occurred to him. He was someone she had to contact in case of an emergency for Holly's sake. Her parents were usually available, but obviously Holly was his not theirs so he was okay with it.

He got up then and went to the panel by his front door.

"Hello," he said.

"Um, hi, it's Claire…"

He didn't need to hear what more she had to say. He slid the little lever that would release the door so she could pass through and get to his apartment. He worked the deadbolt and security chain on his door, opening it.

"Hi," he said more than surprised.

"Hi," she said.

"You got some sun."

"Oh God don't remind me," she said. "It's why I came home today instead of tomorrow."

"Come again?"

"We rented a boat this morning and basically got lost and stranded until another boat happened by us and helped tow us to where we'd rented the boat from."


"So, we were out on the water for like three hours when we were only expecting to be out there for one hour."

"No sunscreen?"

"No," she said.

"Oh," he said. "So you're face?"

"Isn't the only thing that's burnt."

"Fuck, Claire. Three hours?"


"Are you okay?"

"I'm just really sore and when I was able to get on a flight today took it."


"I'd rather be miserable here than there?"

"Fair enough. How did you get here?"

"My car. I had to get back to school somehow."

"Oh, sure," he said. "I guess I didn't realize you flew out of O'Hare."

"Oh, yeah, it was way cheaper than flying from school, I guess."

"Makes sense," he said.

"Worst flight of my life, though."

He chuckled softly at that.

"Don't laugh at me."

"I'm glad that other boat came along."

"We were, too! We weren't sure what we were going to do otherwise. We were so lost."

"I'm not sure I even want to know what you guys were thinking doing that."

"Me either. It seemed like a good idea at the time."

"I bet it did."

She slid her coat off and she winced even doing that much so John reached to help her remove it the rest of the way.

She was … Red everywhere he could see so far.

"So your parents'?"

"Don't know I'm home."

"I see," he said. He wasn't going to complain about that at all, though looking and feeling like she probably did he was going to guess touching her was out of the question.

"Unless you wanted me to go there…"

"No," he said. "You're welcome here anytime. I just wasn't expecting you, obviously."

"I tried calling you from the airport, but for some reason the call wouldn't go through."

"Oh," he said. "Sorry."

"It's not your fault. I was pretty tired, so I probably dialed wrong or something."

"You kind of give a new meaning to the B-52's Rock Lobster, Princess."

"Shut up," she said, but she laughed so she wasn't mad at him.

He leaned in and kissed her, careful not to touch her like he wanted to. Ten days of not touching her after two full days of doing mostly nothing but that sucked.

"I have an idea to help you if you'll, uh, indulge me."

"Indulge you?"

He shrugged. "Yeah. I've had burns…"

"I know," she said.

"Not just those kind. I meant, you know, sunburn and well, working on cars sometimes I touch things that are hot."

"Oh, right."

"Go to the bathroom. I'll be right there," he said.

"I didn't wake Holly up, did I?" she asked.

"Nah, she's a pretty sound sleeper."

"I wasn't even thinking."

"It's fine. Even if you had woken her."

He started the water running in the tub once he joined her in the bathroom, making sure it was as cool as it could be comfortably for her to sit in before he put some baking soda in it.

"Do I want to know why you have baking soda?"

"I have flour and sugar, too," he said with a shrug. "My life is what it is. Laugh at me if you want to."

"No, I'm not laughing."

He reached for her shirt then, lifting it up and off carefully.

"John," she said.

"Relax, Princess. I won't deny undressing you is very exciting to me. I'm not an asshole. I can see how much pain you're in."

"I know I just…"

He chuckled softly. "I'm kind of surprised you're letting me undress you in here."

"That didn't even occur to me," she said as he worked on helping her out of the rest of her clothes. Bra and shoes followed the shirt.

"The tub is clean, too. I give Holly her baths in there so I'm not a slob."

"I didn't even think that," she said.

"So, Mexico was good otherwise?"

"Oh, yeah. A blast."

"Good," he said. "Meet any Mexican men I need to worry about?"

"Oh yes, at least three."

He chuckled a bit.

"You want me to get in the tub? It's going to hurt! I could barely stand taking a shower this morning."

"Trust me, Princess," he said.

"John…" she said when he worked the zipper on her pants after he'd slid her shoes off. She wasn't wearing socks or nylons with them so that was one less thing he had to contend with.

"Why is me seeing you without your clothes on in bed acceptable?"

"It's just different!"

"I'd offer to take mine off and join you, but I'm not sure that would work so well given your condition."

"No," she said.

She got in the tub without further argument, which kind of surprised him. She hissed a bit, but he didn't think the water was too hot.

"Now what?"

"Just sit there for about fifteen minutes."

"And you're going to do what?"

"Sit and watch you?"

"You can't be serious!"

"Well, yes and no," he grabbed a washcloth he'd brought in with him. "I figured I could get your back. It's pretty red."

"I'm red everywhere!"

He laughed at that. "You're not going to go out onto the water without sunscreen again, are you?"


"Good girl," he said, moving to sit on the floor next to the tub.

"You're really going to wash my back?"

"Well, no, not wash it. That'd hurt. I'm just going to get some water on it."

"Oh," she said.

"Legs down, Princess," he said when she started to gather them to her chest. "They're pretty bad, too. I'm not going to get so hot and bothered that I can't keep my hands off you for the night."

"Sorry," she said.

"It's all right. I'm not sure how I'd react if the situation was reversed so you're fine."

"You probably would've known how to get the boat unstuck."

She was probably right.

"Why'd you come here instead of going home?" he asked after a few minutes. "I'm sure your mom would've known exactly what to do for you."

"I didn't want to?"

"Good enough answer."

"Would you rather I be home?"

"No," he said quickly. "Then I'd rather you didn't have to go back to Iowa tomorrow either."

"I know," she said with a sigh.

"It's Iowa not Miami or something. We'll make it work, Princess."

"How was your week?"

"The usual. John and I got to open and close the shop by ourselves on Wednesday."

"Why?" she asked.

"Dawson had to go to the hospital Tuesday night."

"Is he all right?"

"He was back at work Thursday so he must be."

"Why did he go to the hospital then?"

"I don't know!"

"You didn't ask."

"Claire, he's my boss. If he wanted me to know why he went to the hospital he'd tell me."

"Yet you asked him about visiting me," she said.

He sighed.

"Speaking of hospitals, Princess," he said.

"You're changing the subject."

"I'm not, but you may want to go in and get some antibiotics or something. Your back is pretty damned bad. You've already got blisters popping up. I'm surprised you haven't been getting sick."

"I haven't eaten anything yet."

"Been drinking water?"

"A ton!"

"Good," he said.

"I have blisters popping up everywhere."

"Well, I'm not looking everywhere at the moment."

"Why aren't you?"

He chuckled, leaning in to kiss a spot on her shoulder that had escaped sunburn. Judging by the line there it was where her swimsuit had protected that portion of her skin.

"I won't deny looking at the parts of you that aren't red from sunburn would appeal to me a great deal. I'm not sure that'd be very fun for you, though. Me either honestly."

"Not fun?"

"Well, you know overall I'd be kind of limited. So would you. That you can think like that right now makes me happy."

"You really think I should go to the hospital?"

"Right now? No, but ask me again tomorrow and my opinion on that may change. This isn't your average run of the mill sunburn, though, Princess, like you just laid out for an extra fifteen minutes or something."

"I know."

He stood, kissing the top of her head, which caused her to hiss all over again. He hadn't even thought of her head, but he supposed that would be burnt, too.

"Sorry," he said.

"Not your fault."

"I don't think I've ever been around anyone who has been sunburnt from head to toe before."

"I'm glad I could settle that curiosity for you."

He went to the hall and the small closet there, grabbing a towel.

"How do you have all this stuff?"

"What stuff?"

"I don't know. Towels."

"Uh," he said, frowning. "What kind of question is that?"

"I don't know."

"Well, clearly I take showers."

"I know, but I have two towels at school and that's only because I may not get to do laundry every week."

"Oh, well, I don't know. I just bought more than one? Isn't that what I'm supposed to do?"

"I guess I've never thought about it."

"Don't you have more than two at your house?"

"Well, sure."

"Maybe I was just preparing for the day I'd have someone to need to give a towel to."


"Or maybe I have a job where I get dirty. Some days dirtier than others so I like to have more than one towel. Try as I might some days I don't get all the oil and grease out of my hair and stuff."

"I get it," she said as he set the towel on the edge of the tub.

"That means I can get out now?"

"You can. Do you feel better?"

"A little. I'm not sure anything's going to make it feel better."

"Well, a little is better than not at all."

"What? You're not going to dry me off, too?" she asked when he started to leave the bathroom again.

"I was going to go find you a shirt to wear."

"I can put…"

"Something of mine that's bigger so it won't be touching so much of your skin. Or be as tight."

"Oh," she said.

"That also means no bra."

"That I won't complain about either."

He chuckled softly.

"That also means you may be stuck here until you leave to go back."

"That's all right."


"Sure," she said.

"Pat yourself off. Don't rub. You know?"

"I get it, yeah."

"Good, just making sure. Don't need you popping those blisters ahead of time."

He found one of his older T-shirts. Not in the greatest condition, but it was pretty soft from being washed so many times. He figured that'd be good. He'd never been covered in a burn like she was currently so he was sort of winging it with this part.

"I remember that shirt," she said when he turned around to find her standing there. She had the towel around her, a corner of it tucked in so it wouldn't fall the way women seemed to be able to easily.

"Yeah?" he asked, surprised.


"I guess I never knew you noticed what I wore."

"Sure," she said.

"All right," he said, suspecting somehow that was all she was going to admit to. Tonight anyway. "I, uh, have some lotion. Maybe you want to do that yourself?"

She laughed then.

"What? I'm trying to be nice here."

"You just washed my back."

"Yeah, because you can't reach it. I'll put the lotion on your back, but the rest I don't know if you want me doing that."

"You're so funny."

"I'm funny!"

"Yes. Like I'd mind you touching me."

"Well, sure, but there are different reasons. I don't know what you're comfortable with. In the bathroom you didn't seem to want me to take your pants off."

"Because I wasn't sure I believed it'd really help!"

"Ah," he said. "You what? Thought you showed up at one o'clock in the morning with sunburn worse than anything I've seen before and my first thought was to get you naked in my bathroom?"


"Then what?"

"I just didn't know it'd actually feel good."

"Baking soda was something we had in my house growing up. I knew it worked decently for regular burns, figured it'd have to have at the very least a similar effect on sunburn. Just with a tub and more baking soda."

"I will never doubt you again."

"You better not say things you can't be sure you're going to stand by. Something tells me you'll find a reason to doubt me at some point in time."

"Why would you think that?"

"I don't know. A couple hundred miles separating us for a good portion of the year. Your parents to contend with when you are nearby. Because you can't tell me either of them is going to be thrilled with your choice in boyfriends. My daughter with me most every time I do see you because I don't really know that I can assume Betty has any interest in taking her. Her parents would want to, but not regularly like parental visitation would be. I just have a feeling I have a bit of work cut out for me."

"And I've told you I know that Holly…"

"Yeah, I know what you've told me. In theory I understand it seems simple to you. When there are parties you want to go to and bring a date and I can't go because I don't have a babysitter. Or there's a movie you really want to go see. Or when your mom and dad decide they want to meet the guy you're hanging out with. She's always going to be a factor. I've been dealing with it for a while now. What few friends I do have don't pick up the phone and ask me to go watch a game with them because ninety-nine percent of the time I can't go."

"Well, you could go to a place that's not a bar."

"Logic would say that, but my friends don't want to go to a place that accommodates me and my kid because they don't have that problem."

"It's not a problem."

"You know what I mean, Princess."

"I do," she said softly.

He left the room and went to the bathroom again, finding the lotion he had in the medicine cabinet there.

"When you're ready for me to get your back let me know."

"Where are you going?"

"Going to make sure I locked the door again."

"Oh," she said.

"Do you have a suitcase?"

"In my trunk."

"I suppose I should go get that, too."

"You don't have to…"

"Yeah, I'm not going to have you blame me if it gets stolen."

"It's not going to get stolen."

"Your car stands out, Princess. I'm going to get your suitcase. I'll be back. Put the lotion on, put the shirt on, and get in bed."

"What?" he asked at her smirk.

"Nothing. Just wondering how many times you've used that tone with Holly."

He chuckled. "I did just sound kind of bossy. Sorry. Habit."

"It's all right. It's just … strange."

"Yeah, far cry from the guy who had no responsibility whatsoever except being sure he knew where his next blunt came from."

"You were fine then, too."

"To you, though I don't think you wanted to admit it then. I'll never understand that, why you came to the closet that day, but you know it is what it is."

"I'm not sure I'll ever understand it either."

"I'll be back. Bossy tone or not what I said is sound advice so I hope I find you in bed when I'm back."

"If you're going to put lotion on my back, though, shouldn't I leave the shirt off?"

"I'll work around the shirt."

"You want me to wear the shirt?"

He shrugged. "Put it this way. I'll like wearing it the next time a lot. Really."

"There's something for you in my suitcase, by the way," she said when he got back in and was in his room again.


"Yes. I had to have someone buy it for me."

"Well, you're in my bed so I'm not sure what could be in your suitcase. That's all I wanted you to bring back for me."


"Uh huh."

"Easily done."

"You know it occurs to me you came here to Chicago, flew out and back here, yet you weren't going to see me were you?"

"Oh, I was going to come see you tomorrow, yes."

"You were?"

"Yes. I figured I could stay here before I went back to school on Monday morning."

"You were going to drive there and then go to class all day?"

"Would you have minded?"

He shrugged. "Well, no, put like that of course not. I don't want you failing classes because you're tired because of me either."

"I wouldn't have."

"You say that, but I'm not sure I would've let you sleep much."

"You would've had to go to work on Monday."

"There is that," he said.

"Why do your pillows smell good?"

"They do?"

"Uh huh," she said, glancing at him over her shoulder since she was currently lying on her stomach.

"I just washed them?"


"Yes. I could do laundry during the week when I don't have Holly I suppose, but it just works better for me to do it on weekends. That way I'm also sure all of her stuff goes back to Betty's house that's supposed to."

"It won't have to anymore, though, will it?"

"Hopefully not much longer, no."

"Good," she said.

"What you did for me, Princess. I don't think I've ever really thanked you."

"You did."

"Well, I don't remember it. So, thank you. You didn't have to ask your dad to do that."

"That's what friends are for. You obviously wanted her."

"You wouldn't say that if you'd seen me with her two years ago."

"It's not two years ago, it's now. You were lied to. No one could blame you for not being excited at the prospect of being a dad when you were sixteen."

"I suppose not."

"My dad's helping you then? I mean, he is really?"

"Yes! I've told him I'll pay him what I can when I can and he seems fine with that. It sounded as though he wasn't going to even charge me."

"No, I don't think he was."

"Well, I feel better paying him something. He hasn't invoiced me for his time or anything, so I have to kind of guess what someone like your dad's time is worth."

"You're my friend, I wasn't expecting him to charge you."

"I bet he'd charge me if he knew I'm more than your friend now."

"I don't think so. He's not my mom. He just wants me happy."

"I make you happy, Princess," he asked.

"Keep doing that and you'll make me exceptionally happy."

"I'm not doing anything."

"You're putting lotion on my back. That's doing a lot."

"Yeah, well, touching you like this makes me want to put other things on your back. Or someplace anyway."

"I could use my mouth."

"You could. That'd be fantastic, but no, that's not why you came here tonight."

"How do you know why I came here tonight?"

"Because looking like you do I doubt very likely you had anything on your mind but feeling better."

"You've made me feel better."

"I'm glad," he said, setting the lotion on the stand by his bed and drawing the shirt down. He slid a hand along her ass cheek, touching the back of her thigh. Those were about the only parts on her he felt comfortable touching right now. "I'm not sure I was expecting you to wear just the shirt."

"You have my suitcase!"

He chuckled at that. "I'm not complaining."

"Thank you," she said.

"For not complaining?"

"No, for not making fun of me or telling me I'm stupid."

"You're not stupid. Accidents happen. Making fun of you seems like a bad way to keep a girlfriend I just got so I'll hold back on doing that for now."


He left the room for a minute again, coming back with a glass of water and some ibuprofen.

"I'm fine."

"You're going to be sore and hurt. I haven't been covered in head to toe before so I can only imagine what you're going to feel like tomorrow morning."

"Thank you," she said, taking the glass and the pills.

"You need anything else?"

"I'm fine for now."

"You sure?"

"John, I'm fine beyond wanting you to lay down next to me."

"That's easily done."

"You have a better bed than I do," she whispered.


"Yes. We fit."

"I wasn't complaining about how we fit on your bed. It was small, but that made it cozier." He'd expected her dorm room bed to be smaller so he wasn't surprised or anything. Of course he hadn't been planning on sleeping there so the logistics of sleeping with her on a smaller dorm room bed hadn't entered his mind until he'd done it.

"It did," she said, seeming to agree.


"Why are you still in bed?" she asked the next morning.

"Where else would I be?" he asked.

"I don't know. Up with Holly."

"Oh, she's still sleeping."

"So late?"

"It's only eight o'clock," he said. "She'll be up soon, I'm sure. I usually chill in here until she does so I don't wake her up earlier than she would normally."

"Oh," she said.

"How are you feeling?"

"Sore," she said.

"You will be for a while, I'm sure. Those blisters are going to itch like crazy. I should go to Walgreen's today to get you better lotion than what I have. There's got to be something specific to that type of thing so the itching isn't so bad."

"I can go."

"I know you can, but that would require you putting clothes on. I'm trying to avoid you having to do that until you have to tonight."

"If people could see you now."

"What do you mean?" he asked with a slight frown.

"You have me naked in your bed and you're worrying about lotion."

"Well, if you didn't look like you currently do believe me I wouldn't be worrying about anything but being very quiet until Holly did wake up."

She got out of bed then and he watched her. He could tell she was sore and probably pretty stiff.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

"To get your present."

"It's not that important."

"I don't want to forget about it and bring it back with me. I'd get in trouble if I have it in my room and well I'd never use it."

"Okay," he said, curious now.

She opened her suitcase. He'd offer to do it for her, but he noticed grabbing it out of her trunk that she had a lock on it. He supposed she'd have told him the numbers if he'd asked but she seemed to want to do it herself.

"I stuffed it inside of my clothes so I knew it wouldn't break," she said, bringing a bottle over to him.

"Princess," he said, taking the bottle of tequila from her.

"I don't know if you even drink tequila, but it seemed the thing to buy while in Mexico."

"I'd say. It even has a worm at the bottom."

"Yeah. Remind me not to kiss you after you've had a shot of that."

He laughed softly at that.

"Can I kiss you now while holding the bottle?"

"Yes," she said and he leaned in and did just that.

"Thank you," he said. "I didn't expect you to get me anything."

"I know, but like I said it seemed like the thing to do. I know you like to drink."

"Well, I hope you don't tell your parents that about me when you describe me."

"No! I mean, you know, I'm not implying you're a lush or anything."

"That is very good to know."

"I just figured, Mexican tequila."

"No, no, you were right. I'm sure one night I'll break this open with someone and enjoy it."

"When I'm at school preferably."

"You really wouldn't kiss me afterward?"

"It's a worm, John!"

"Well, I could do things that don't require kissing. Or at least my mouth on yours."


"Hmm," he said curiously. "No?"

"I like kissing you while we're doing that."

"I like kissing you, too."

Too much probably, but that wasn't a bad thing really. He didn't think so anyway.

"I may not even open this," he said, setting the bottle on the stand next to the lotion bottle from last night.

"Why not?"

How to explain it? He wasn't sure as he eyed the bottle.

"It's the first thing you've ever bought for me. I may just keep it."

"I bought it for you to drink."

"I know. We'll see," he said. He'd never been given much of anything before in his life. Certainly not something as expensive as a bottle of tequila. Maybe they sold it down there like they sold bottles of water up here. He had no idea, but he doubted it. He doubted she bought him a cheap bottle either. She just wasn't made that way.

"Now I feel bad," he said.


"I don't know. I've never gotten you anything."

"You didn't go to Mexico," she said.

"Yeah, but you're not supposed to get me stuff. I may be new at this, but I know that's not how it works."

"John. It's not like I bought you a car."

"I know," he said. "I've just never gotten anything from anyone before. You know? I just feel guilty, like I should have something…"

"You paid when we went to the Aquarium and stuff. It's not like you haven't done anything."

"Paying for a date is not the same thing at all."

"John, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you feel bad or anything. I just thought you'd like it, honestly. That was the only reason I bought it."

"I know," he said.

"And please don't think you need to go out and get me something. I was on a trip. That's what you do when you go on a trip. You bring things back for people. I even brought something for Holly."

"You did?"

"Yes. It's just a bracelet. I'll give it to you and you can give it to her or not. It's up to you."

"Well, if you bought it for her…"

"Yes, you may not want me giving her stuff. I don't know."

"Why wouldn't I?"

"I don't know. I wasn't sure."

"You can give her stuff. I mean, if you're buying her something real expensive I may say something about it, but a bracelet I think is reasonable."

"All right."

"It's not like made of diamonds or anything?"

"No," she laughed. "It's very colorful, though, that's what made me think she might like it. I don't know the first thing about kids, but I think I remember in Child Development class learning kids like colors."

"I never took it," he said.

"The class?"

"No, I probably should've, but I wasn't thinking the clearest at the time."

"I suppose not."

"All right, Princess. Let's get some more lotion on you and then we can get up for the day."

"What are we going to do?"

"We aren't going to do much of anything. You're going to move as little as you can get away with. I'll make us some breakfast, maybe order a pizza for dinner before you have to go back to school."

"I don't have to leave that early."

"I know."

"I'm glad you answered your door last night."

"I'm glad you came here." He grabbed the lotion so he could put more on her back before he got up with Holly. He'd heard her stirring for the past few minutes so he knew she'd be awake looking for him shortly.

"You're not just saying that?" she asked.

He scoffed. "No. You can come here anytime. I'd prefer you not skip out on classes to do it, but otherwise."

"I wouldn't do that anyway."

"Yeah, I didn't think you would. Just being clear. I'm not trying to come in between you and school or making you choose between me and it."

"I know."

"You have shorts in that suitcase I imagine?"


"Comfortable ones?"


"Good. Come out whenever you're ready. You obviously know where the bathroom is and stuff. If you want to take a shower, cool water. As cool as you can stand it."

"I know," she said.

"If you want another bath, the baking soda is still in there."


"I might be persuaded to come do your back again."

"Not if Holly's awake."

He sighed softly. "I suppose that wouldn't fly, would it? All right. Another time then."

"Hopefully I won't be sunburnt another time."

"I don't need the sunburn to want to wash your back, Princess."

"Oh," she said.

"Next time, in fact, I might just join you and wash it the right way."

"There's a wrong way?"

"Not being able to touch you like I wanted to is bordering on criminal."

"You would know."

He chuckled softly at that. "Yeah, I guess I would."

Return to Top

***Chapter Ten***
Word Count: 5,569

April 1985

"I'm not running a daycare you know," Dawson said.

"I'm aware."

"She can't be here," he said. "I mean, never mind she can't be here. She could get hurt or killed here."

"I'm aware of that, too," John said.

"So, you just let her mom drop her off here?"

"You think I can stop her? How exactly?"

He had not been expecting Betty to show up here hours before he was scheduled to be done with work to drop Holly off for the weekend. It was Friday so traffic was always a bitch and John wanted to stop at Jewel and the bakery on the way home to pick up food for the weekend and the cake for her birthday. He hadn't ordered a cake last year, so he'd gone sort of overboard this year and gotten something pretty extravagant. Overboard considering she'd never remember it, but he would.

"Why did she have her today anyway?" Dawson asked.

Logical question especially since he knew she hadn't seen Holly since the end of March.

"I called her when I was on lunch and asked her if she could pick Holly up from the babysitter for me before six o'clock so that I could pick up a few things without her for tomorrow."

"Well, it sure is before six o'clock," Dawson said.

"I know," John said.

She'd been even crazier the past three weeks since the ink was dry on the custody agreement giving John full custody of her. Claire's dad even threw in giving John the right to discontinue visitations if he thought Holly would be harmed or compromised being with Betty. Certainly while living with her parents John wasn't worried about Holly, but he imagined one day she'd move out. The new agreement went into effect April first, but as that fell on a Monday he'd basically had her since the end of March because while Betty's parents may have appreciated having her that last weekend Betty didn't want her.

With full custody came the fact Betty was supposed to be paying him child support. He was kind in the agreement, leaving it open to their own previous arrangement. It had always been as needed. He paid her fifty bucks every week because he didn't ever want it said he didn't give her money. She'd never gone after him for a dime, so he was extending her the same courtesy. He kind of hoped in a weird sort of way she wouldn't pay him. He was documenting everything, Claire's father's idea. Every conversation they had on the phone or in person, every penny given to him or him to her, every item bought for Holly down to a barrette or ponytail holder. Claire's dad seemed to think, judging by Betty's behaviors, John could eventually have a case for abandonment if she stopped seeing Holly and never gave John money. John wasn't sure he'd go that route as to do anything to keep Holly from her mom indefinitely, but he was following Mr. Standish's advice just the same. Better to be careful and not need it than need the information later and not have it.

To this point she hadn't paid him anything. He couldn't say he was surprised. She had unlimited income now to go to her habits since she didn't have to spend anything on Holly and as far as he knew her parents didn't charge her rent. One day she'd sober up and realize what she was throwing away. At least he hoped so since she was the one who wanted a kid to begin with.

"How long is she going to be a vindictive bitch?"

"I wish I knew," John said.

"Go home," Dawson said. "She can't be here."

"I know. Can I, uh, use the phone before I go?"

"The phone?" Dawson asked. He sounded pretty incredulous at the request. John wasn't sure he could blame him. It was kind of odd since, generally, the only reason he ever made calls was standing right here currently.

"Yeah. Claire's going to be leaving within an hour. I'll see if she maybe can pick up the, uh, cake since I can't now." It would kind of ruin the surprise if Holly saw her own cake first.

"You want to use my phone to make a call to Iowa?"

"Yeah," John said.

Dawson stood from his desk then with a shake of his head.

"Have at it."

"I'll pay you for the call."

"I'm not worried about the money. You're not going to be talking that long if all you're doing is asking her to pick up a cake."

"What then?"

"You sure she's ready for that?"

"Ready for what?"

"I don't know. Picking up your daughter's birthday cake. That seems like kind of a mom or dad thing to do."

John frowned slightly at that. He didn't see it that way exactly, but he supposed he could see where others might. His parents didn't pick up birthday cakes for him. "Well, if she doesn't want to she can say no and I'll do it tomorrow morning."

"All right, well, use the phone then. Come on, Holly," Dawson said.

"Uh, what are you doing?"

"Letting you use the phone without having to watch her. Uncle Dawson will show her the inside of that old Edsel he's working on."

"Thanks," John said, glancing at Holly going with Dawson without even seeming to think about it. He supposed she was too little to be suspicious or anything of people who knew her name. That was a pretty scary thought.

He picked up the phone, like most everything at Dawson's Garage it was old. In this case it was an old rotary phone. It very likely was older than John and could be used as a weapon if need be it was that heavy. It worked, though, that's all John cared about right now.

'Hello,' she said.

"Hi," he said.

'Is everything all right?'

"Yeah. Well, for the most part."

'What's wrong?'

"Oh nothing. Betty screwed up my work day. I wanted to stop at Jewel and that bakery you told me about on my way home before picking up Holly so asked Betty to pick her up from Mrs. Kuzinski's to be sure I wasn't late."


"She dropped her off here a few minutes ago so Dawson's sending me home."

'I'm sorry,' she said.

"It's not your fault, and while I can stop at Jewel still with her I was hoping maybe I could talk you into stopping by the bakery to pick up her cake. I don't want her to see it first."

'Oh, sure.'

"I'll call them to be sure they know you will, though I'm sure it's fine."

'And it's under your name?'


'Sure, I can. I was about to leave so you have good timing.'

"Thank Betty for that."

'I don't think I will.'

"At least we weren't stacked to the rafters with cars to work on today."

'When do you think she'll stop being mad?'

"Never? I don't know. Her parents weren't too happy with me either, but that's something we can talk about when you get here. I don't want to talk any more than I have to on Dawson's bill."

'Oh, right. All right. I'll stop there on my way to your place then.'

"Good. And your parents?"

'Don't know I'm coming into town for the weekend.'

"That is the best news I've heard all day."

'That'd mean something if you hadn't already told me what happened.'

"I know. Get here soon, all right?"

'All right.'

He hung up then, going to collect Holly from the Edsel Dawson was showing her. John had never seen an Edsel in person before. He'd seen pictures, of course, in magazines and a history book or two in school. The one Dawson was working on was a pretty neat powder blue version. It had apparently been in someone's private collection, untouched since it rolled off the assembly line basically until someone bought it recently. Why they were having Dawson look it over was anyone's guess, but here it was.

"Let's go, Holly."

Dawson helped her out of the front seat and she ran to John. He picked her up, knowing she'd get dirty but she already was since Betty had handed her to him as soon as she got here. So, a little more dirt wasn't going to hurt anything.

"I'll see you on Monday I guess."

"I'll be here. Happy Birthday, Holly," Dawson said.

"Thanks," John said. He was surprised to hear Dawson say that.

"You are going to work out some other sort of alternative plan, right? At least until she's done being pissed off at you."

"Yes, I'll figure something out. I have a couple of friends who could do it. I just have to figure out who I actually trust her with. Then nights I will want to stop at a bakery on the way home won't be many."

"I guess not. Have a good weekend."

"Thanks, you too."

He stopped at his apartment first, getting them both cleaned up before heading to Jewel. He didn't mind stopping there after work looking like he did, but he wasn't going to let Holly go in there looking greasy and dirty. That was all he needed. At least Betty had taken her coat off before handing her to John so that wasn't filthy.

She was talking a bit more these days. Her unending rambles of 'dada' ate at a piece of his heart he was pretty sure he never knew existed until hearing that word said about him by Holly. Good timing, too, because two years ago, hell, even one year ago he wouldn't have been ready to hear them.

The groceries were more for Claire and him since Holly would eat whatever he was having for the most part. She was always happy with grilled cheese so he made her one of those when they got home since it was about time for her to eat anyway. Mrs. Kuzinski didn't give her dinner each night, but she made sure she had snack late enough in the day after their lunch to tide her over for a potentially late dinner. She was, John had to admit, pretty good so far.

It was kind of weird that her birthday fell on a Saturday this year so they'd actually be having cake with her on the actual day tomorrow. He was going to cook some steaks and stuff, too, not that she'd appreciate his efforts but he was sure Claire would enjoy something other than the fast food or pretty casual stuff he always seemed to have when she was here.

"Hi," he said when she got to his door.

"Hi," she said, handing him the box the cake was in so he could take it to the kitchen.

"Thank you again."

"It was no problem. Did you tell her mom where you were getting the cake from?"

"I may have mentioned it to her parents, why?"

"She was there when I got there to pick it up."

"You saw her?"

"Yes," she said.

"Did she say anything to you?"

"No, actually, she was outside almost as if she was waiting for you. So she didn't know I was there to pick up the cake."

"Weird," John said.

"It was. I just wasn't sure."

"Well, she's not very happy with me right now."

"I know."

"She hasn't taken Holly at all this month even though she can have her every weekend if she wants to."

"She can?"

"Well, the set visitation is every other weekend, but I made it clear she could have her every weekend if she wanted to. I'm not out to stop her from seeing her mom."

"Well, right."

"So I don't know. She was pissed I asked her to pick her up today. I don't know if she thought I'd ask her to come have cake with us."

"Oh," Claire said, biting on her lower lip a bit with her teeth. "I hadn't thought of that. She won't see her on her birthday."

"Hey, she could get a decent job, stop doping and boozing it up, and move out of her parents' house. She hasn't done that."

"I know, I just hadn't really thought about it from the standpoint of her birthday."

"I didn't see her on her birthday last year."

"I suppose not. And her parents?"

He shrugged, glancing into the living room. Holly hadn't strayed too far from the area she'd been playing on. He had a big quilt he set down on the floor for her to play on. She could have crackers and juice on it and he didn't have to worry about his carpet getting dirty. Things getting dirty was a constant worry of his now that he had her every day. And every day for three weeks was way more than he was used to. He wasn't going to lose his security deposit over spilled grape juice.

"Well, I think they knew I was going to try and get custody of her eventually. I think they were a little pissed I didn't warn them it was happening now."

"Oh," she said.

"Yeah, the couple of times I picked her up before everything was finalized but they knew they were not very nice to me. I mean, you know, before they found out they were at least," he shrugged, searching for the right word. "Cordial to me. They weren't overly friendly to me. I'm sure in some ways they see me as your mom does, the guy that knocked their daughter up and screwed up her life. I think they logically know it was fucked up before me and my dick entered the picture, but I'm easy to blame and now I've taken their grandchild from them."

"I thought they wanted that."

"Well, again, logically, yes. I know they weren't thrilled with basically being responsible for Holly the days and nights I didn't have her. The night during the week she spent with me they still had her during the day. I mean, they'll get over it, especially when they can start enjoying their newfound freedom. They just sort of made me jump through hoops to pick up her things. I have a crib and high chair, but I don't have all of her clothes and stuff here."

"And you've lost yours. Your freedom I mean. They have to know that, too."

"I didn't have to do this. I could have thrown your dad's number away."

"I know."

"She's better off with me. Now in a couple of years if Betty has turned her life around and I think that would be as good an option as being with me I'd share custody or something."

"You're too nice."

"I'm not. I'm not trying to punish her or take Holly away from her, though I think she sees it that way right now. I just don't want for my daughter what I had, you know? Ironic that living with me is the better, more stable option."

"It's not."

"If you say so."

"I know so," she said. He slid his arms around her and tugged her to him for a kiss.

"Hi," he said.

"You already said that."

"I know. I haven't kissed you yet, though. I never feel like I've really said hi until I do that."

"I see," she said. "You don't usually kiss me in front of her."

"I didn't have custody of her before. I'm not going to never kiss you."

"That is very good to know."


"I might get kind of mad about that."

He ran a fingertip along her lower lip which she kissed.

"We wouldn't want that."

"I know."

"I do know I don't want you mad at me."

She laughed softly, settling her head against his chest.

"What do I owe you for the cake?"

"Don't worry about it."

"Claire," he said.

"No, really, it's fine."

"No, that's not right."

"You bought all of the food."

"Well, she's my daughter."

"I can buy a cake, John."

"All right."

"You did buy ice cream, right?"

"I did. We bought that Neapolitan stuff."

"Hmm. Couldn't decide on a flavor?"

"Well, she likes strawberry and vanilla. You like vanilla and chocolate."

"What do you like?"

He chuckled softly, tugging her closer to him for another kiss. "It seems I answered this question once before."

"You did?"

"Uh huh. You're wearing it."

She blushed profusely and he chuckled softly at that.

"You shouldn't say that in front of her."

"She doesn't know what I just said, I didn't say anything wrong, and she's not even listening to us. She's all the way over there anyway."

"I suppose."

"Besides, it's underneath what you're wearing that I like best."

"Stop," she said.

"I will not." He found her jaw, kissing her there. "How are you, by the way?"

"How am I?"

"Yeah, you know, your sunburn?"

"Oh, I'm fine."

"Good," he said. "I know you had a rough few days there when you first got back to campus but you hadn't said much after that first week."

"No. That lotion you bought me at Walgreen's was great. I carried it with me in my backpack and put it on anytime I felt like I needed to scratch."


"I had Kelly from next door put it on my back in the morning and before I went to bed so that didn't get too dry either."

He'd met Kelly when he was there. She seemed pretty nice. She was from Idaho he knew. He only remembered that because he honestly until her saying she was from there didn't think anyone actually lived in Idaho.

"Good girl."

"You doing it would've been nicer."

"Tell me about it. I had dreams about the things I'd like to do to your back after you were here."

"My back?"

He chuckled softly. "Well, yeah, that'd mean I was, you know, behind you. That's very exciting."

"Why?" she asked.

He shrugged. "I don't know that it's an explainable thing. It's just exciting."

"All right," she said, sounding cautious.

"So, Dawson brought up a valid point today," he said, figuring maybe a change in topic was wise for now. He wasn't sure he wanted her thinking too hard on whether she'd want him behind her or not.


"I need to sort of have a backup with Holly in case I'm running late or something."

"Oh, right."

"I mean, he's been great about letting me off as close to five o'clock as he can get. I've never been later than six fifteen to this point, but like today. I had a couple of things I wanted to do, you know?"


"I need to think about that, I guess. I have a friend, kind of. I mentioned her once before. It was her mom that was redoing her basement that gave me the couch."

"I remember."

"Would that bother you?"


"If I had a girl do it?"

"Pick Holly up? Why would it?"

"I don't pretend to understand how the minds of women work. So I'm asking to be sure if I asked her to be my backup plan you're all right with that."

"Sure. It's not like she'll be doing it every day."

"So it would bother you?"

"Well, I don't know. Every day? Maybe. That'd mean she'd be seeing you every day, too."

"You see guys every day."

"I know. I'm not spending time with their daughters though. I'm sure I'd be fine with it. I don't know. Whatever you need to do, John."

"You're sure?"


"Because I can't really think of anyone else that doesn't still get stoned and stuff."

"I guess so, yeah."

"I never really had to think about emergency contacts or anything before now. Hopefully Betty won't stay pissed off at me and will be willing to do it without showing up at the garage hours before I'm due to get off."

"I can't believe she did that."

"I don't pretend to understand the way she thinks. I'd like to have you be the contact during the summer, you know when you're home."

"I could do that."

"I'd call you to let you know and stuff. I can't see it happening real often."

"John, you don't need to give me a reason or an excuse. I'd be fine with it."

"All right, thank you. I'll get you a key to my apartment."

"You're going to give this other girl a key to your apartment?"

"Uh no, but she can bring Holly to her house with her. You, I assume, can't."

"Oh, yeah, that wouldn't go over well."

"I know it wouldn't. Thus the key. Besides you should have one. I'm not moving anytime soon and nights like last month when you came here unexpectedly you could just let yourself in."

"You'd want me to do that?"

"Claire… Why wouldn't I?"

"I don't know."

"I've said I want you here anytime, so giving you a key seems logical. You can come here during the summer whenever you want. Coming home to you in my bed waiting for me would be a really great way to end my day."

"You sure?"


"Does she know about me?"

"Betty? No. I didn't dare tell her that before the custody stuff was done. I was afraid if she did know she'd tell your dad and he'd stop doing the case or something. I was too close to finally having her and there's no way I can afford even a pretty cheap lawyer. A cheap lawyer wouldn't have been nearly as effective either."

"He wouldn't have done that."

"Says you. I'm pretty sure he might have knowing I have one daughter already and am having sex with his daughter. I saw the way your mom looked at me. She was envisioning you having a daughter of your own nine months after my showing up at your house that first time."

"He wouldn't. He's not like that."

"I want to believe you."

"Are you going to tell her?"

"I figured I'd wait until the summer when you're actually in town and we're doing stuff together on a frequent basis. Until then why excite her even more."

"That's the only reason?"

"Yes. What other reason would there be?"

"I don't know."

"I don't want to be with Betty, Claire," he said, setting a hand along her cheek. "I didn't date her. I didn't hang out with her. I didn't like her. I wasn't hung up on her. I didn't ever want to have sex with her again after that one time."



"Why not?"

"I don't know," he said with a frown. "I was sixteen, one girl wasn't my thing. The same girl more than once was a waste of my time."

She sighed.

"You asked the question, don't get mad at me for the answer. I just want to be sure you realize there are no feelings that are going to be rekindled or anything."

"Except she chose you for a reason."

"I'm not really sure she did other than I was there, convenient, and she knew I was pretty open to fucking. I mean, I didn't get the impression she liked me or anything."

"I guess."

"I missed you, you know," he said not wanting to talk anymore about Betty if he could avoid it.

"Did you?" she asked.


"Me, too."

"The last time you were here. I got all excited seeing you standing at my door."

"You did?"

"Yeah. I wasn't expecting you at all. There you were. All sunburnt and everything."

"I know," she said.

"You're here now, though."

"I am."

"Not sunburnt."

"No, well, there are still a few spots…"

He chuckled softly.

"You can show me those spots later."

"I'm not sure those spots will interest you."

"All of your spots will interest me tonight, Sweets. You showed up at my door, I thought I was going to get laid again."

"I bet you did."

"It was very much a letdown."

She laughed softly as he kissed her. He worked a couple of buttons on her blouse and he loved when he saw her breathe a little heavier at that.

"Want to fix that?"

"Letting you down?"

"Uh huh."

"Right now?"

"That was the general idea behind the question, yes."

"John, Holly is…"

"Not right here, no, but you have a bag to put in my room. I can put her in her crib for a little while…"

"I think you can wait a couple of hours until she goes to sleep."

"I think you underestimate how badly I want to again and overestimate my wanting to wait any longer than I have to."

"Well, just put it with having to for a couple more hours."

He sighed, groaning softly as he slid a hand along her breast and felt her respond to him when he did.

"You sure?"

"No, but that just doesn't seem right."

He sighed again, sliding his hand away from touching her. It was the last thing he wanted to do, but he did it. He slid his mouth along her jaw to her ear, nipping at it before finding her neck.

"I'll be fast and make it up to you later. Like all night later," he whispered


He chuckled softly.

"It was worth a try."

She whimpered softly as he kept kissing her neck. She really liked when he did that for some reason. Some spots got a better reaction out of her than others. He was still learning those spots and was enjoying the process very much. He pushed her blouse back a little bit, kissing lower along the top of her breast.

"Won't she fall asleep if you put her in there?"

"Not if I leave the light on and everything, no. I put her in there if I have to take a shower when I get home from work."

"I suppose," she said softly.

"You could really make up for an unexpectedly shitty day here, Princess," he said, working a couple more buttons on her blouse.

"It just seems so…"

"Come on, parents have to have sex with little kids around."

"Well, yeah, when they're asleep I'd think."

"She's not going to know!"

"You really can't wait like two hours?"

"Can't? Sure I can. Want to? No," he said. "What can I say? Seeing you makes me incredibly horny."

"Seeing me does?"

"Uh huh. Talking to you does, too, but my hand doesn't feel nearly as good around me as you do. It doesn't kiss me either."

She laughed at that.

"You shouldn't say that!"

"What? Like you don't know I do that. A lot more frequently the past few months than I have been used to needing to do that, too."


He chuckled softly at that, at the fact she wouldn't think he would. He took her hand, sliding it to the front of his jeans.


"But if you've done that you should be able to wait."

"Fuck, really? That's going to be your reason? That's not a very good one. I just got done saying my hand was not you!"

She worked the button on his jeans and then settled her hand over the fly, cupping him with the palm of her hand. She ran her thumb along the length of him through his jeans there and he couldn't help but groan softly. It wasn't as good as direct contact, but it was better than the nothing he'd had since visiting her.

"I swear to God I just think it's a terrible habit to get into!"

"If I only had her weekends anymore I'd agree, but I have her every day. You think I'm going to wait until she's asleep for the rest of my life to have sex with you?"

"Well, probably not the rest of your life, no. She'll move out eventually."

"I'm not sure I like you making jokes at a time like this."

She giggled softly, kissing his neck.

"If she was more used to me…"

Probably a fair argument. He sighed softly, glancing over her shoulder at Holly who was still playing on the floor. Fuck. He could've just taken her in the kitchen and been done with it and it would've been fine. Instead he was now actually hard in addition to being horny. Granted, he didn't foresee either remaining the case for too much longer. Still, frustrating to have to wait even a couple more hours when it'd been weeks!

"I'd feel sorry for you if I wasn't staying with you all weekend."

"There is that I guess," he said as she kissed the spot where his collarbone dipped at the base of his throat before reaching up to kiss him.

"I might even promise to make it worth your while to wait."

"Hmm. How?"

"I'm not sure."

He chuckled softly.

"I'm sure whatever you come up with would be worth my while so I'm good with that."

"You think so?"

"I know so, Claire. It'd be your idea, that'd mean you'd want to do it. I'm good with that."

"It'd serve you right if it was sleeping."

"It would, but if that's what you'd want to do…"


"Well, would that be tops on my list tonight? No, but I'm not an asshole if you didn't want to I'm not going to make you. Trying to convince you to take fifteen minutes in my bedroom is not making you!"

"I know."

"Thank you."

"Once she's more used to me being around you guys…"

"I can live with that," he said.

"Thank you. I just… I don't want to be that girlfriend who she says awful things about later on in life."

"I find it hard to believe she'll have anything awful to say about you."

"I know that, but if we get into the habit of going to your room right away when I get here every weekend I come to see you when I'm at school. Sooner or later she'll be old enough to remember that."

Probably another fair argument. Even her babblings were making a little more sense to John these days. Perhaps that was because he was around her every day now he wasn't sure.

"I missed you," she said.



"You just missed my bed."

"I did! It's way better than my dorm bed."

"I seem to remember you saying that when you were here after your trip."

"I'd love to sleep in it again without sunburn being a problem."

"I think you'll discover I don't have much sleeping on my mind tonight, Princess."

"The cake was beautiful, by the way. They showed it to me before I paid for it."

"I know, that's why I didn't want to pick it up. I didn't want her to see it. First of all, I want her to be surprised and second of all, she'd have seen it and then gotten pretty pissed off that she couldn't have it right away."

"I can see that. Was it your idea?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, did you come up with what you wanted them to decorate it with?"

"Oh, yeah, she loves the Muppets."

She leaned in and kissed him. "You're a good dad."

"Because I got her cake decorated with what she liked?"

"Yes. I can guarantee you my dad would never have thought of that in a million years."

Hmm. He hadn't thought he'd done anything special or extraordinary. She liked the Muppets and that was about all she liked right now with regularity. Sure, Mickey Mouse and stuff were good, but she loved Kermit and Miss Piggy so he'd asked them to decorate the cake that way.


"Sure. I can't wait to eat it."

"You've gotten cakes from there before?" She'd given him the name of the bakery.

"Yes. That's where we get all of our cakes and stuff from."

"Good to know. It's more than I thought a cake would cost truthfully. That's why I don't like you paying for it."

"It's all right, really."

"I'm going to have to give her a bath tonight."


"Well, I was at work when Betty dropped her off so she got kind of dirty. Mostly her clothes, but Dawson took her out into the shop while I called you so just to be sure. I cleaned us up before going to Jewel, but basically I just washed her hands and face so she still needs a bath just to be sure."

"Oh right. He did that?"

"He did."

"Did you ever find out why he was in the hospital?"

"No. I mean, he wasn't. It was his mom, I guess."

"Oh. Is she all right?"

"He hasn't really said. She's home again so she must be. I didn't really press when I found out it wasn't him who'd been the patient. I figured it was none of my business even if it was him, except if he was going to drop dead I'd like to know I need to start looking at other garages to work at."

"Good. I mean that they're both all right."

"Other than that, though, the bath I mean, you have my undivided attention."

"I do?"

"Uh huh. If you want me to prove that to you…"


"Yeah, yeah."

Return to Top

***Chapter Eleven***
Word Count: 4,054

June 1985

"Did you and Claire have a fight or something?" Dawson asked him during lunch.

When John first started working here about a year ago, Dawson never sat to eat lunch with him. He hardly talked to him even. From the few things Claire had told John he suspected it was because Dawson was expecting him to shit on him. He seemed to be under the realization that John was sticking. The drive sucked and John hated like hell getting dirty every day, but he learned more here than he would other garages. Dawson wasn't afraid to pass on the knowledge he had to John. Dawson wasn't eons older than him, but he'd been working on cars since he was like eleven. So, he knew things John hadn't even thought of yet. He could admit that. More often than not anymore Dawson made his way into the break room during lunch and sat with John. Sometimes they didn't say a word. Neither were huge talkers so he doubted Dawson took any more offense to their companionable silence than John did.

"You know, I'd feel a whole lot better about the fact you even know who she is if you didn't ask me that every time you think I'm in a bad mood. My bad moods are not because of her."

"Because of her, maybe not, but she usually has something to do with it."

"And this concerns you, why?"

"It doesn't. You don't seem to have many people to talk to about things. I was asking a question."

"We didn't fight."

"Then what's your deal today?"

"She wants to go see a movie tomorrow night with a group of her friends."

"So? What's the problem? You don't like movies or something? I hate to tell you this, movies are a pretty popular thing to do on dates. Even I know that."

"I don't know anyone who can babysit."

"Oh," he said with a nod.

"I honestly never thought about the fact I'd need a babysitter outside of work so haven't looked. How do you go about finding one?"

"Like I'd know?" Dawson asked.

"You have a sister. She has kids." Dawson hadn't told him that, Claire had. He knew he had a sister, but not that she had kids.

"Oh. Right. I don't know. You live in an apartment complex, don't you? Surely there are younger girls around who'd be interested in making some cash once in a while. I mean, that's what you're talking, right? Saturday night or something? You're not talking every night."

"No! I don't even know if it'd be every week. She's mad we can't go because of me."

"She said that?" Dawson asked.

"No," John admitted. She hadn't said it, but he knew she wasn't thrilled that she wasn't going.

"Did you tell her she can't go?"

"No, of course not, but she seems to think she shouldn't or can't without me."

"Well, it's Saturday night. Last I checked that was a pretty popular night for couples to go on dates."

"I know that! I mean, I've never needed to be aware of that before, but I know what people do on Saturday nights."

"She probably wants to show off to her friends since this is one of the first weekends she's been home since you've been dating."

"I know," John mumbled. He absolutely loathed the idea of meeting up with anyone in her group of friends again in his lifetime.

"Well, what are you prepared to do about it so next Saturday night she's not mad at you again?"

"I doubt I'm going to find one in a week, Dawson. This is my kid we're talking about not my car or a dog."

"Well, you could probably find one where you live fast enough. A week should be long enough to know if your little girl's at least comfortable with someone so you could leave her with her for a couple of hours."

"I guess," he said. He'd never needed to pay attention to things like young girls who'd be interested in babysitting until now. He did know Claire wasn't going to sit at home every Saturday night this summer so he needed to figure something out. He told her to go without him, but she hadn't wanted to do that.

"Do you go to church?" Dawson asked.

"No," John said. "What does that have to do with babysitters?"

"You maybe could find one there if you did," he shrugged. "I'd say an area junior high or something, but they're closed for the summer now. So I went to the next thing I could think of where kids go."

"Kids go to church during the summer?"

"Well, church is year-round."

"I suppose," John said. "I just never thought about it."

"I asked you…"

"You asked me because you like her. You weren't asking out of concern for me or what having Holly full-time would do to my relationship. Besides hoping it'd destroy it, maybe."

"I won't deny that might be true. I knew New Year's Eve I didn't have a chance with her."

"You did?" John asked. So why had he tried to kiss her then? Why'd he call her when she went back to school? More than once it had sounded like.

"Sure. The things she did for you, coming here at all let alone twice," he shrugged. "It's pretty obvious she loves you."

"Then why did you call her?"

"Because you didn't seem to want to love her back."

"And now we're stuck with a mistake I made three years ago and it's coming back to bite me in the ass."

"You wanted the kid!"

"Because she's better off with me. I didn't worry about a social life because I didn't really have one. It wasn't an issue when having her full-time was just a theory."

"Why don't you call her mom and ask her to take her?"

"She hasn't seen Holly since the end of March. I could ask her parents, I suppose, but that seems kind of …"

"Rude?" Dawson asked.

"Yeah," John said.

"Any chance Claire has thought you could ask them and thinks you just don't want to go?"

"I don't know, possibly I suppose. I don't want to open up the door to them being able to say I just got custody of her and am already trying to unload her on them."

"It's been over two months. Everyone's entitled to a break, even parents."

"Well, I suppose you're right, but I chose to do this so I have to figure it out without involving her parents."

"Your parents are out?"

"Not even a chance that'd happen in hell."

"That bad huh?" Dawson asked.

"You don't know the half of it."

"Well, I don't know what to tell you."

"I'll figure it out," he said.

"What movie anyway?"

"A View To A Kill," John said. He was, admittedly, a little bummed they weren't seeing it, too.

"She likes James Bond?"

"I don't know if it was her choice or just a group of her friends picking a movie to see. I think this is the first weekend all of her friends are back. Some are on quarters versus semesters. She tried to explain it to me, but she may as well be speaking Latin for all I got out of it. They get done at different times, that's about all I can say with certainty."

"It's pretty good."

"What?" John asked.

"The movie."

"You've seen it?" That sort of surprised him. He just had a hard time wrapping his head around Dawson doing anything but sitting here at his garage working on cars. Aside from sleeping. Then, John wasn't entirely sure the guy slept. He knew his boss and Pruitt were here a lot later into the evening than John was. He also knew Dawson worked weekends a lot, which meant Pruitt did, too. (John supposed that could account for some of the marital problems he'd overheard Pruitt bitching to Dawson about.)

"Sure, last weekend."

"Great, thanks, I'll be sure to tell her that."

Dawson chuckled softly. "I guess if I knew she was a Bond fan I could have asked her and saved you this fight. I mean, anything I can do to help, you know…"

"Don't even say it, all right? Just don't go there."

"She wouldn't have gone with me anyway. We both know that. Now, a couple more months of you not having a babysitter…"

"Yeah, I get it," John mumbled.

He balled up the sandwich wrapper once he was done with his sub. He got it very plainly. She wasn't going to wait around for him to find a babysitter forever. She wasn't going to sit home every Saturday night all summer. John had to figure it out or he'd lose her. She wouldn't go out with Dawson. He knew that much. She just wouldn't do that, but something told John that if he didn't have a solution to this problem it'd get old for her real quick. So, maybe she wouldn't go out with Dawson, but there'd be someone who wasn't John's boss who didn't have a kid who'd probably appeal to her. He wouldn't put it past Dawson to try if he found out he and Claire weren't getting along. He didn't care what his boss said, he'd seen him try to kiss her with John here in the bathroom (and knowing John had a hickey on his neck) so he knew the interest in her wasn't just a one date thing.

It was the first time having Holly had interfered with anything in his life. Until now having her hadn't posed any real problems. He'd asked his friend if she'd be willing to pick Holly up in an emergency, but he hadn't had to use her. Mrs. Kuzinski had both Amy and Claire's names so either of them could pick up Holly if need be. She had asked him to try to call her so she'd know, which he understood her wanting him to do. Of course if an actual emergency cropped up he probably wouldn't be able to make more than one call.


"You're mad we couldn't go to the movie with your friends tonight," he said. He, truthfully, hadn't been all that shook up about not being able to go. They were her friends. He had no burning desire to see half of those people outside of Shermer High. She'd been different tonight, though, when they were having sex. Not in a bad way, exactly, but he hated the idea that she'd have sex because she thought she should not because she wanted to. He'd gotten the distinct impression she hadn't exactly wanted to. She hadn't said no, but she hadn't wanted to be on top of him at all.

"I'm not mad."

"You are. I can tell. Don't lie to me."

"I'm not mad. Disappointed but not mad."

"I told you this wasn't going to be easy, Claire."

"I know that!"

"I'll make it up to you."

"How exactly?"

"I don't know. I'll start looking to see if there's someone around here who can babysit if we want to go see a movie once in a while. I didn't realize you even liked James Bond."

"Who doesn't?" she asked.

He supposed she had a valid point. James Bond was the ultimate in cool, really. He just hadn't had her pegged as the type that dug spy movies. The movie had been out for a couple of weeks already, so it wasn't as if her friends had planned to see it on opening night and they couldn't go.

"I guess I don't know."

"You don't, I suppose?"

"Like James Bond? Of course I do. I prefer Sean Connery, I guess, but what's not to like?"


"My fault I suppose for not thinking ahead to when you were home for the summer and thinking of a babysitter."

"You've been kind of busy." She said that and he believed she meant it, but there was a tone in her voice that suggested she wasn't being entirely sincere. Why on earth would he have looked for a babysitter?

"I know, but I still should have thought of it." He should've been prepared. A girl like Claire wasn't going to want to sit at home every Saturday night or spend Saturdays with him and Holly as they did back in January.

"I wasn't here for you to think of it."

"Now you're justifying my actions to me."

"No, I just, I understand. I just wanted to go."

"I told you that you could go! I didn't stop you from going. I'm not sure I get why it was such a big deal I went with you."

"I wanted to go with you."

"I still don't get why that was a big deal. None of your friends like me and I bet more than one will stop talking to you when they find out who you're going out with."

"They wouldn't do that."

"Right. So, let's just say Tammy Olsteen brings me to one of your parties a couple of years ago. You wouldn't have told everyone she was slumming? And made sure she never forgot that she no longer fit in with the likes of your crowd."


"See. Why do you think you're immune from that behavior?"

"I don't! I just think if they have a chance to actually get to know you. I mean, Brady thinks you're all right."

"Brady isn't totally in your group of friends, though. I mean, he is, but he gets along with people I got along with, too. So, he's a bad example."

"But he'd tell other people…"

"I'm not sure I want people vouching for me."

"So, you just never want to do anything with my friends?"

"I think I'd prefer maybe starting small."


"Yeah, like maybe something with one of your friends and her boyfriend. You know, something where you're not springing me on twenty or thirty of your friends at one time."

"So you really didn't want to go tonight?"

"Not really, no. I would have gone if I had a babysitter. I wouldn't have liked it much probably."

She sighed softly.

"You want me to lie? I'm not going to do that. You figure out something we can do with a couple of your friends. You can't tell me that wouldn't make you feel better?"

"I don't know. I didn't think about it."

"I thought of calling Betty or her parents, but I really don't want to open that door. You know?"

"I can't believe Betty hasn't seen her in over two months."

John shrugged. "I'd like to be as surprised as you are, but I'm not. I figured she'd go to the other extreme for a while and then come around."

"How long of a while?"

"I don't know. I'm not her and I'm not friends with her to know what her frame of mind is. I assume she thought a baby would be the answer to whatever problem she was having at the time. Clearly, it's not. It's actual work. I wasn't much help at first, couldn't have been even if I'd wanted to be. I wouldn't be here right now, living and breathing, if my old man found out I'd knocked someone up when I was sixteen."

"Why would he have reacted so badly? Weren't your parents real young?"

"I honestly think my dad, when he had a clear enough head to think straight, wanted better for me than he had. I don't know because he sure had a funny way of showing it. I think that's why they stayed in Shermer despite us not really fitting in here as the years went on. I was ten when he gave me my first package of rubbers."

"Ten years old?"

"Yup. Fifth grade."

"You knew what they were for in fifth grade?"

"I knew what girls were for in fifth grade, sure. He must have known I did, too, because he told me what they were for. He didn't tell me to go out and use them, but I guess he figured the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Would you rather he didn't do that?"

"Well, no, I just can't even imagine. My mom, God."

"Yeah, I can imagine what your mom's version of sex education was. Keep your knees closed? Something like that. Seems she didn't have to worry much about you anyway so it worked."

"Yet you still believed her? Betty I mean."

"Well, sure. My mom didn't lie to my dad about anything like that. They were just stupid, at least that's the impression I've gotten. If she had I bet he would've warned me about that, too. I was too drunk to really think clearly on it. She was eighteen. I didn't think she was a scheming bitch out to get pregnant. And by me! She wasn't one of those chicks that hooked up with different guys at every party. I wouldn't have believed someone like that. I'd always gotten the impression before that night that she was pretty cool. She knew I wasn't the kind of guy to walk away from an offer like that. I don't know. It was stupid. Forget believing her. I should never have done it without one. I've thought on that night more than once over the past couple of years. I wish I could understand what was going through her head, but here we are."

"I just feel bad for Holly."

"Me, too. I hope she comes around and figures it out before she gets too old and Betty can't repair the damage she's doing. I wasn't the world's greatest dad at first. I didn't want to have anything to do with her, but I figured if I was paying her money I should get something out of that expense. I won't deny at first that's what she was to me. An expense. I was risking getting arrested by selling my shit for a kid I didn't even want. I earned money working for my dad, but he watched me pretty closely so I had to come by money other ways."

"I know."

"Now, though," he shrugged.

"You love her."

"Yeah. I can't even imagine," he sighed softly. He slid a hand over her hip. She'd have to go home soon. He was starting to hate that part of the night most of all. She'd stayed here a couple of times since she'd been home, but they both knew it wasn't a habit they could get into more than once a week at best. Her mom would never buy her staying at a friend's house more frequently than that.

She turned then to face him.

"I'm glad she has you and is with you."

"Thanks to you. I can't ever repay you for that, you know that?"

"I don't want you to repay me."

"I know. I'm just saying. What you did for me. Have you even asked your dad how much someone in his office would have charged for that?"

"No," she admitted.

"So you have no idea the amount of money you saved me. How much sooner I was able to get her. Betty's parents were great, but I'm not sure as Holly got older she wouldn't have figured out they were doing more than her mother was."

"I know."

"I knew pretty early on that I got the shitty end of the stick when it came to parents."

"I'm sorry."

"I don't want Holly to think that about both of her parents. I hope she doesn't have to think it about either of us."

He shrugged.

"I didn't do it for you to feel as if you have to repay me."

"I know."

"Are you sure? I don't like hearing you say things like that."

"It's just an expression. I'm sure you're wishing at the moment it hadn't gotten done as quickly as it did."

"Why do you say that?"

"We wouldn't be here tonight."

"We would be, because you still had her on weekends and you wouldn't have even thought of finding a babysitter if you only had her weekends."

"You're probably right." He hadn't thought on that. "My boss hasn't called you since you've been home, has he?"


"Just asking."

"No. I haven't heard from him since…" she paused as if thinking it over. "March, I guess. I don't think I've heard from him since you came to school that first time. I mean, I saw him last week…"

"Yeah, I know, you don't need to bring me lunch. You certainly don't need to bring him lunch."

"It seemed rude…"

"Worry about not being rude to me. Don't worry about whether you're rude to Dawson."

She laughed softly, kissing his neck. She nipped at the skin there a bit and moved on top of him.

"I guess you're not mad at me," he whispered as she kissed lower along his chest. "At least not anymore."


"You know how much I like you on top of me and you didn't want to earlier."

She shrugged. "I have a boyfriend. I want to do stuff with him in front of my friends. I've never had that before, you know? I mean, dates to dances don't count. I've always been the one without a date. I was always the one everyone knew would be somewhere because I had no one else to conflict with plans. Tonight I wouldn't have been. I liked the thought of it. That's why I didn't want to go without you."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry, John."

"I'll fix it," he said.

She sighed softly.

"I don't suppose you have friends who have little sisters," he asked. She clearly wasn't out to get him excited for sex again. Of course her being on top of him naked sort of got him excited for sex again whether those were her intentions or not. She was just being touchy, which was fine, too. Touches from Claire were not anything to get bummed about.

"I do actually," she said.

"And this didn't occur to you?"

"No, I guess it didn't," she said.

"Dawson said I could find someone here this week for next Saturday, but I don't think I'd trust a random stranger to babysit her less than a week after meeting her. I mean, the rent's cheap here, but I know what I'm getting. I'm living with all the other people who want to live in Shermer but can't afford better than this."

"It's not that bad."

"It's not the Projects, no, but I'm still not sure I'd want to trust someone here to watch her."

"I get that," Claire said.

She was quiet for a minute as she slid him inside of her. He loved this feeling more than he probably should, her doing the work of taking him inside of her just made him love it more.

"I guess you don't have to go home yet?"

"Not quite yet."

"That is very good to hear. You're not laying out tomorrow, are you?"

"I'm not sure, why?"

He chuckled softly. "I think your mom will know you weren't at a movie," he said, running a fingertip over one of the hickeys he'd left her. It wasn't on her neck but if she wore a bathing suit it'd show.

"I didn't tell her I was at a movie anyway, but don't worry she won't see it."

"Will anyone?"

"I don't think so. Why would they?"

"I thought you mentioned going to the beach Monday."

"Oh, yeah," she said. "I guess so then."

"Good," he whispered.

"Good for you. Not so good for me to show up with random hickeys on me."

"There's nothing random about them."

"To you!"

"I told you, Claire, pick a friend or two and I'm in. That's not why we're not there tonight. I honestly don't have a sitter."

"I know," she said.

"I can't deny I'd pay good money to see and hear their reaction to them."

She laughed softly at that, but it didn't distract her from what she was doing at all. That was just fine as far as John was concerned. He liked her focused on this particular task very much.

Return to Top

***Chapter Twelve***
Word Count: 6,811

"Fuck!" she shouted.

"Yeah," John said.


"Yeah?" he said. "Gimme a minute, all right?"

"John, oh my God. Do you see the sun peeking through your blinds?"

He turned his head then, opening his eyes enough so he could regard the blinds in question. He never opened the damned things, but light always got in a little. And, shit, light was sure coming through.


"I'm still here! The sun is up! I didn't call my mother!"

"Oh," he said. "Fuck."

"That's what I just said!"

"I thought you were telling me what you wanted me to do!"

"I think we did enough of that last night."

"It's never enough, Princess," he said, taking her hand and setting it between his legs. "See?"

"Oh my God. I can't believe you're thinking of sex at a time like this."

"I'm a guy, Claire. I think about sex pretty much all of the time. It's the way we're built. You are currently lying next to me naked. Okay, sitting up but, you know, in the bed. That's pretty much a given on the excitement scale for me."

"I fell asleep here, John! This is not a time to be making jokes about your sex drive." She stood from his bed, grabbing her clothes. "I'm in so much trouble. Do you know that? She's going to fucking ground me for the entire summer!"

"She's not going to do that because you stayed out all night."

"You don't know my mother! Oh my God. What am I going to tell her?"

"I don't know. The truth?"

"Impossible. Do you know what she'd do if she found out I was spending the night with a guy? She'd send me to a convent or something."

Did they even still have convents? John wasn't sure or if that was just the ultimate in paranoia on Claire's part.

"A guy or me?"

"A guy. Any guy. You joked about my wedding dress being able to be white. My mother made it very clear that was an expectation for me. You know. I mean, it was just a given."

"Really? I was joking. Who the fuck believes in that anymore?"

"I'm not! Joking I mean. That's how she believes. Today. She cannot find out I'm having sex."

"Claire. Settle down. Just tell them you fell asleep at someone's house watching a movie or something."

"She's not going to believe me!"

"Why not?"

"I don't know. She's going to know."

"She is not. You're being paranoid. You don't have a beacon over your head that goes off because you lost your virginity. She would already know and have talked to you if that's the case. So, what reason does your mother have to think you're lying to her?"

"Other than the fact I am, you mean?"

"Well, yeah. Okay. Other than that. You've never given her a reason to think you're out sleeping with guys."

"But I am! Hello? More than once now."

"Yeah, me. One guy. You're not out acting like a whore by screwing the entire football team or anything."

"You're not helping!"

"I was paying you a compliment. One guy does not a bad girl make."

He laughed when she almost fell over trying to put her panties on.

"Really? Just sit down, take a breath, and get dressed. God. She's going to be mad whether you get home in ten minutes or thirty."

"Well, I'm hoping…"

"If you get there quick enough no one will be awake yet? Maybe." He glanced at his alarm clock. It was early enough that could be possible.

"Yes. It's possible."

"Okay. Well, falling over and smacking your head on the corner of my bed so I need to take you to the hospital for stitches will not help that."

"I know," she said, sitting on the edge of his bed.

"I'm sorry," he said.

"I know," she said. She didn't sound as if she believed him, though. She was probably lumping it into his sorry from last night for not being able to go out with her friends. He'd have to remind her to find out about one of her friends younger sisters later. He doubted it'd register now, but he knew there was no way he could get away with two Saturdays with no sitter.

"You want help?"

"Help? With what exactly? Putting my bra on?"

"Well, I don't know. I'm just asking."

"You've done enough! You're not supposed to let me fall asleep here!"

"Let you! You're a big girl last I checked, capable of waking up on your own. You need me to do it for you?"

"No, but in the winter you set your alarm for me so I wouldn't do exactly this." She glanced at him over her shoulder. She didn't look happy at all. He couldn't blame her he supposed, but Christ it wasn't the end of the world. "Do you even know how to put a bra on?"

"Well, no, but…"

"Just leave me alone then and let me get dressed."

"Wow. All right. Remind me not to wake you up on the wrong side of the bed again. Fuck."

"You're flirting with me and that's not helping. You don't want to help me into my clothes. You'd just take them off again."

"I asked if I could help!"

"Yeah, like I don't get dressed every day."

"Not mad."

"I just. She's going to kill me."

"She won't kill you."

She stood then, sliding into her skirt and stopping at his dresser. She ran her fingers through her hair and fixed her blouse. She picked up the brush he had there for her. Weird he had things here for her like a brush and even a couple extra hangers in his closet so she could hang stuff in there when she needed to. He hadn't bought an extra toothbrush for her, but he'd thought about it the last time he'd been at Osco. He wasn't sure how she'd react to that, so hadn't done it.

"You gave me a hickey!"

Man, did she sound pissed about that.

"Yeah," he said with a shake of his head. "Did you forget? I told you that last night."

"No! Not that one! This one is on my neck."

"I did not."

"What do you call this?" She turned to face him then and sure enough there was a hickey there. He didn't remember doing it. He was pretty careful since she'd been home for the summer not to do that. He sure had liked giving her them the couple times he'd seen her since January and he could do that.

"Sorry," he said, but he had to admit he wasn't that sorry. Not really. It was just a hickey. Claire needed to quit letting her mom control her so much.

"She's going to see it, John! I can't hide this! My collar doesn't go up that high."

"Chill out. It's not the end of the world."

"It's a hickey. She's going to know! She's going to ask questions."

"Claire. It's not even six o'clock. If you leave now you'll be home before six thirty easily. Do they wake up that early on Sunday?"


"I'll give you one of my shirts to wear that should cover it just in case. If she asks tell her a friend of yours called you needing a ride or something."

"And your shirt?"

"I don't know. It was your friends? You borrowed it because you got cold? It belonged to some guy your roommate dated and left behind and you kept it because it was comfortable? And looked incredibly sexy on you."

"I can't tell her that."

"I wasn't suggesting you tell her that part. I was passing on my thoughts on the subject. I find you incredibly sexy in no shirt, but you know, my shirts work, too."

"You've only seen me wear your shirt once."

"I liked it a lot. You should do it again."

"You never said that."

"I thought the fact I couldn't get it unbuttoned fast enough was a pretty good clue."

"I suppose so."

He chuckled at that.

"Why are you laughing at me?"

"You blush when I say things like that."

"Of course I do!"

"Yet I can tell you how fucking good you feel around me and you don't at all."

"That's completely different."

"How so?"

"I can not talk about this now," she said, finding her shoes and sliding them on. "I have to go."

"Call me later?"

"If I'm not grounded for the rest of my life."

"Well, I guess if I don't hear from you I'll know that's the case then."

"This is funny to you, isn't it?"

"Kind of. I mean, I never had to worry about getting grounded."

"No, you just had to worry about…"

"Yeah, I know. At least I could still do whatever the fuck I wanted to do."

"You got punished!"

"I still had fun!"

"Yes, and you have a daughter out of that fun."

"Wow. All right, kick me where it counts. I made a mistake. You've never made one?"

"I'm sorry. I just, I'm not like you, John. I don't want to disappoint my parents. I really don't."

She leaned down then, kissing him.

"You want my shirt or not?"

"I suppose," she said.

He stood then and he couldn't deny the thrilling feeling that washed through him when her eyes followed him to his closet.

"Really?" she asked.


"My looking at you excites you?"

"I think you making a peanut butter sandwich would excite me."

He found a shirt he thought would cover the hickey in question and brought it to her.

"You know you could just stay here and take care of my excitement problem."

"You'd just have another one."

"Well, yeah, probably." That was pretty much a given whenever she was around. Sometimes at work, too, when she wasn't around if he thought about her in a way he had no business thinking about her while he was at work. It was unavoidable some days, though.

"John. I have to go home! My mom will absolutely freak out."

"You could just tell her you'd told her you were spending the night at someone's house. Make her think she forgot."

"I can't do that. She'd want to talk to their mother."


"If she didn't believe me? Yes."

"You are nineteen, you know."

"Yes, but I'm still living under their roof. I have to follow their rules."

"She's not going to kick you out."

"You don't know that!"

"Claire. What good would kicking you out do? Other than assure your mother the life she hopes you'll have will not exist?"

"You don't know my mother. She's not rational. Remember my brother dropping everything to be a ski bum for the winter? She hasn't recovered from that yet!"

He sighed.

"One of your friends would let you camp out in their room until she woke up and realized she was being ridiculous."

"I'm not going to ask one of my friends to do that."

"Your brother then?"

"That's maybe a possibility. If my mother didn't tell him not to. I'm not sure he wouldn't listen to her after his skiing thing. She was pretty mad at him. He just got back like a month before school ended for me so he's sort of sucking up to her now."

"You could ask me to do that."

"John," she said, sliding his shirt on and buttoning it. It was cool enough outside that it might actually work, wearing the heavier flannel shirt over her blouse. She looked pretty ridiculous, but he didn't think she was worried about the fashion statement she was making this morning. For a change.

"If your friends could see you now," he said with a chuckle as he reached for his sweatpants. For a second he almost thought she might change her mind and come back to bed for him. Only a second, though. It was nice to know looking at him was a temptation to her, even if it wasn't enough for her to give in. He wasn't sure sometimes. His own insecurities, it wasn't anything she'd done to this point. Not really anyway. Sometimes he felt as if he wanted to way more than she did. Maybe that was normal. He didn't know, not having a steady sexual relationship with anyone before now to compare it to.

He walked her to the door, working the chain and deadbolt.

"You have your purse and everything this time?"

"Yes," she said.

"Drive safe, Princess, all right. You won't do your mother, or me, any good in a hospital or a grave because you were driving recklessly in an effort to get home quickly."

"I know."

"Call me later?"

"If I'm …"

"I know. I imagine you could figure out a way after your parents are sleeping or something later to call me."

"But you have to work tomorrow morning."

"Well, unless you're going to come tuck me into bed I'll take a good night call instead."

"I'll try."

"Thank you."

"Bye," she said.

"Hey," he said, tugging on the front of his shirt a bit. He leaned in and kissed her. She drew away and he groaned softly. He really, really didn't want her to go.

"I have to go."

"I know," he said with a sigh. "If they're sleeping and you're not getting yelled at, let me know you got home okay. Okay?"

"I'll try."

"Yeah, I got it."

He didn't think she realized he was asking because he was actually concerned. It was an odd feeling for him, to give two shits about anyone else. Holly, obviously, was an exception. Claire was quickly becoming one, too. It would piss him off royally if she got into an accident or something on the way home.

He went back to bed, not sure he'd actually be able to fall back asleep or not. If he didn't have Holly he could follow her to her house to be sure she got home all right. She probably would have hated him doing that, but she was upset and worried. He didn't like her driving around like that.

He had to admit, glancing at the side of the bed she'd slept on the few times she'd spent the night here, the idea of her living here all summer wasn't a bad one, except she'd go back to school and he imagined that would suck like hell.


She almost screamed when the light came on in the living room. She had no idea what stopped her. The expectation of coming home and finding her mother and ten police officers in their living room waiting for her? She sure wouldn't put it past her mother to go to that extreme because she didn't come home one night of her life without a phone call.

It wasn't her mother, though.

"Do you know what your mother would do right now if she was the one sitting here?"

"Kill me?" Claire said. It was a rhetorical question. She knew that, but she had to say something.

"That may not be too far from the truth. Claire…"

"I know. I'm sorry! I fell asleep. I swear it was an accident. I didn't mean to!"

"I'm not going to be the first one awake every morning. You know this, right?"

"I do! It won't happen again. I swear. It won't, Dad."

"Do I need to ask where you were?"

"No! I promise you, Dad, it won't happen again."

"Does this not happening again have a name?" he asked.

She blushed profusely. He only had a smaller table lamp on so maybe he missed it. She'd learned over the years, though, her dad didn't miss much. He liked to pretend he did sometimes, but very little got past him. It was one of the reasons she always found him easy to talk to. He always knew what she was talking about without her having to rehash every detail she'd already argued with her mother over.

"Yes," she said cautiously.

"Do we need to have a talk?"

"What? No! Oh my God! I swear to you it won't happen again, Dad. I fell asleep. That is all!"

"Not him. You. You know, the type of talk I assume your mother had with you."

"Oh, no, not that either."

"You're sure? Because if we do…"

"Yes. I mean, yes, I'm sure we don't need to have that conversation."

"I realize that you've had a year at school. Things are different than when your mother and I went to school. You're used to being able to do your own thing…"

"Dad, I've already said it won't happen again."

"What I was going to say, Claire, if you'd let me finish is that it might be nice if one of us had an idea where you were spending your time so that if this does happen again that one of us with the knowledge can assure the other one that you're safe and haven't been in a car wreck."

She sighed softly, setting her shoes on the floor beside the couch near where she was standing. He had a point, she supposed. Her dad was good at calming her mother down or at least getting her to freak out a little less about things.

"You, uh, know him," she said. His simple nod, as if he already knew that, surprised her.

"Was this not going to happen again happening when you asked me to help him?"

"No! I swear to you. I saw him in October when I was picking out my pumpkin. He mentioned wanting to get custody of his daughter and I thought you might be able to help him. It wasn't until later…"

"I don't need to know the details. I was just curious."

"I didn't lie to you."

"You do understand what having a child means, don't you?"


"What would happen to that little girl if your mother…"

"I'm over eighteen, Dad. What can she do?"

"Claire. Really? She's your mother. You and I both know if she wanted to cause a problem with someone she could. She already didn't like him coming around the house looking for you. I tried to assure her that he seemed like a decent fellow without violating anything, but you know your mother."

"I know."

"Then I will presume your assurances that this won't happen again are not just empty ones and that you will, indeed, see to it that it doesn't happen again. I didn't work endlessly on his situation, but I'd sure hate to have the work I did put into his case – for free mind you as a favor to you – be undone because you were careless."

"No, they're not, empty assurances I mean. I swear it was just an accident."

"Go on upstairs before she wakes up, put that shirt somewhere she won't see it until it gets returned to its owner."

"I will."

"And what's under it I presume."


"We'll talk more later. He doesn't have a string of children so I presume he learned his lesson. He's not my concern, though, you are, so we will talk about it so I'm certain you know what you're doing."

Great. Just what she wanted to talk to her dad about. Not. He was better than her mom, but still not at all a conversation she wanted to have with him in this lifetime.

"I'm not going…"

"Later. Upstairs. Now before it gets any later."

"Okay, thanks," she said, walking toward the stairs. She paused then, regarding him. He'd been waiting for her. No newspaper or anything. He'd been worried. Had he been up all night? He'd worried about Christopher a lot. Christopher partied a lot. Like drank and got in a car and drove home. A lot. Every weekend a lot. She remembered how worried both of her parents had been many nights. She was too young to understand the big deal, but she remembered. She remembered hearing their arguments, hushed as they tried to keep them. The tension was always so obvious. She hated causing that look to be there on his face tonight.

"Oh, and Dad, I'm sorry to have worried you."

"I know, Claire. I guess I can't complain about one night compared to some other dads I know with daughters your age."

She was glad he saw it that way!

"Your mother on the other hand," he said quickly.

"Yeah, I know." Her mother would not see it as a one-time offense after years of doing little to nothing wrong.

"Oh, and I will expect you to be at dinner tonight with your mother and me. No rushing out the door or acting as if eating with us is an inconvenience. And no mentioning what time you got in last night."

"Okay," she said.

She went upstairs, careful to be as quiet as she could. That was all she needed, getting to her bedroom door only to have her mother catch her.

She used her bathroom, sliding out of John's shirt and putting it at the bottom of one of her dresser drawers. Her mom still folded her laundry after washing and drying it, but she left it on Claire's bed these days for her to put away herself.

She glanced at the phone next to her bed and then at her door. He said he wanted her to call him if she hadn't gotten in trouble. She wouldn't say she was trouble-free exactly, but her father was much more rational and sane to deal with than her mother.

'Hello,' he said, sounding as if he'd fallen back asleep.

"I, uh, am home and fine."

She found it hard to believe he really cared if she got home all right. She was sure he cared, but she doubted he was really concerned she wouldn't make it home this morning.

'Okay, thank you. I appreciate it.'


'All clear?'

"Not really."

'Oh? You're calling, though.'

"Dad was waiting up for me."

'Your dad was?'


'Oh,' John said.

"He, uh, knows where I was."


"He asked. I told him."

'I see,' he said.

"Is that okay?"

He sighed softly. 'He's going to tell your mom.'

"I think he might not, actually. As long as it doesn't happen again. And since at least one of them now will know where it is I'm spending my time…"

'I see,' John said.

He was quiet then and she wasn't sure if that was good or bad.

"Is that okay?"

'It's fine. You know. Sure.'

"I just have to be extra careful, you know."

'Your dad's probably hoping you're extra careful in a few ways now that he knows who I am.'

"Yeah, he said we'd talk about 'things' later. I'm very excited to have that conversation with my father, let me tell you."

'Well, at least you can tell him we're, you are I guess, are being responsible. I'm sure he'd rather it not be me you're being responsible about that with.'

"John," she said.

'It's all right. I get it. I would expect no different. I'm glad you made it home and everything and you remembered to call.'

"John. What was I supposed to do? He asked!"

'Nothing. You did the right thing. It's fine. I'll see you later?'

"Mm, I'm not sure. He told me to be sure I was home for dinner."

'I see. Well, then, call me and let me know when you're allowed to see me again.'

"John. That's not fair. He's being very reasonable about this. He could've freaked out or let my mom find me and freak out. He brought up a very good point. I'm an adult, but that doesn't mean she still couldn't make things difficult for you. And Holly. You don't want that any more than I would."

He sighed.

'Yeah, you're right. I'll talk to you later, Claire. Okay.'

"Are you mad at me?"


"Why don't I believe you?"

'Not sure. If you can come over after dinner later, great.'

"Okay. I'll try."

'Okay. If not, have a good night, I guess.'


"Oh hey," Dawson said to Claire when she stepped into the garage. She no longer reacted to the loud squeak on the door.

"What?" she asked.

"Uh, hey, hello. Hi. You know, I was just greeting you."

"Greeting me?" she asked with a frown.

"Yeah, whenever you come here at this time of day you bring me food, too. Seems a greeting is called for in such cases."

"Oh, yeah, subs today."

"Subs are good. Everything all right?"


"I don't know. You look like you aren't sure you should be here."

"I'm fine."

"All right. He's in back. Should be up in a few minutes. He was just getting a part before lunch."


"You mad about James Bond?"


"You know, you didn't get to go."

"He told you that?"

"He may have mentioned it. I told him I saw it already, if I'd known you were a fan I could have saved him the headache."

"You didn't say that!"

"I did."

"Erik," she said. "He's going to get mad!"

"What's he going to do? Quit? He could, I suppose, but he would've after seeing me try to kiss you back in January if he was going to do that."

"Quit teasing him."

"I wasn't teasing. I would've taken you."

"You can't take me to a movie."

"Doesn't mean I wouldn't have done it."

"You are crazy."

"So they tell me." He glanced behind him. "Look who brought us subs, John."

He regarded her curiously, setting the part he'd gone to the back to get in the car he was evidently working on. Beyond mufflers she was pretty clueless when it came to identifying car parts. He'd tried to teach her some things when he looked under her car's hood at school in March when he'd noticed she didn't have any washer fluid. It had gone in one ear and right out the other.

"You look nice," John said once he'd walked up to her.

"Thank you," she said. She didn't think she was dressed that differently than usual.

"Sure. You didn't have to bring me lunch."

"I know," she said. "I thought I'd surprise you."

"All right," he said.

"I'll take mine to my office. You two kids enjoy your subs now."

"Thanks," John said with a shake of his head. "Why'd you buy him lunch exactly?"

"I don't know. I told you, it's rude."

"I'm your boyfriend. He's not. He's your boyfriend's boss, there is no being rude."

"Well, of course there is. He has to eat lunch, too."

"Claire," he said. She followed him to the break room. She'd eat with him and then leave. She'd done it a couple of times since being home. He wasn't crazy about her coming down here she knew, but he hadn't told her to stop doing it.

He glanced behind her and approached her then. He slid his arms around her, drawing her to him for a kiss. She gasped as he parted his lips almost immediately. She groaned softly as their tongues met and his hands slid around to cup her ass, drawing her closer against him.

"I missed you yesterday," he murmured, finding her jaw.

"You saw me yesterday morning."

"You were kind of bitchy when I saw you last. I didn't have much fun with that. I missed this Claire."

She meant to respond, really she did but he found the spot on her neck she knew there was already a hickey and kissed it, nipping the skin there and she groaned again. He chuckled softly against her neck.

"I don't remember giving that to you, but I can believe I did it. You always react so enthusiastically when I do that there."

"I do not!"

"If you say so," he quipped, lowering his mouth a bit closer to her shoulder.

"John," she sighed.

"Uh huh," he said, grazing the skin there with his tongue.

"I brought you lunch."

"I know. I like it so far."

"We can't…"

"We can. He won't bother us."

"Are you serious?"

He slid one of his hands into hers and brought them to the front of his pants.

"Do I seem like I'm kidding?"

"John," she whispered, but she didn't move her hand away. She absolutely should have. She should have taken it away, stepped away from him, and sat at the table that was just over there behind her. It wasn't even five feet away.

She didn't, though.

"Fuck, yes, Claire," he hissed when she slid the zipper down on his pants. She reached for him then and he bit her neck just below her ear.

"You didn't do this yesterday morning after I left?"

He snorted at that.

"No," he said. "I was hoping I'd see you last night to rectify the problem the better way."

"The problem! We had sex three times Saturday night."

"What can I say? He likes getting used. I think he really likes you."

She laughed softly at that.

"Clearly," she said.

"I was wondering if you could tell."

"I kind of can."

"God, Claire, you should probably stop," he said.

She reached lower along his shaft so she could cup him. He liked when she did that, running her fingertips along his shaft along the way.

"You started this!"

"I didn't think you'd want to jerk me off in my lunch room."

"Would you?"

"Would I what?" he asked, kissing her ear.

"Finish if I kept going?"

"Uh, probably. It's you, touching me in a way I very much like. What kind of question is that?"

"Even though we're here."

"Even though," he said. "But that'd be kind of an odd mess to explain, you know?"

He slid his hands along her hips, tugging on her skirt a bit.

"Now if you were offering an alternative solution to making a mess on your hand I'm willing to listen."

"Listen, huh?" she asked with a soft laugh. "I can see what you want to listen to."

"You, asking me to make a mess inside of you."

"You know I want you to."

"I do?"

"I always seem to want you to."

"That is incredibly good to know," he said, picking her up.


"Quit," he said, sliding his mouth over hers. She gasped as he entered her, biting his lower lip a little. He moved them a bit, settling her back against the wall. She let her head fall back then.

"See, this is where you get hickeys on your neck. You ask me to do it!"

"I do not," she whispered.

"It's there, begging me…"

"Trust me, other places beg just as much."

"Hmm," he said, rubbing his check against her blouse a bit to move it lower.

"We are so getting in trouble," she whispered as he hit a particularly enjoyable spot inside of her.

He chuckled. "Only if we get caught."

"He could walk in here any minute."

"He's not going to. He'd be doing the same thing if he was me."

"You're not hurrying."

"I'm enjoying having you around me like this," he said, shifting his hands under her a bit. He found her mouth again as his thrusts increased in tempo. She slid her hands to his face, fingers finding his hair as she did her best to move with him. Now he was hurrying. She had no idea what it said about her that while him touching her certainly helped it was the idea that he wanted to do this here, now, like this that almost made her finish more than his fingers did. She came pretty intensely, too, with him following right after her. He didn't stop kissing her for a few minutes after, sliding a hand along her thigh before he pulled out of her. She hated that part.

"I take it back, you can bring him subs all you want."

"Why?" she asked suspiciously.

"He eats and therefore leaves us alone. We get to do that. So bring him one every day if you want."

"I'm not doing that every day!"

"Hmm," he said, regarding her. "Every other day?"


He chuckled. "Relax, Princess, I'm teasing. Well, you know, if the mood struck you every other day feel free to tell me."

"I'm not sure about the being bad thing, John. I mean, not that I didn't, um, you know. I mean, I did. Obviously, you know that. You always make me."

He chuckled a bit at that.

"That is good to know. That I always make you, I mean. You hear about girls lying about that type of stuff. Once was good enough for me."

"I thought you were mad at me yesterday."

"What?" he asked with a frown.

"I don't know. You seemed… Mad on the phone."

"Not mad, no. I just," he shrugged. "We'll talk about it later. I was just hoping we'd have a little more time before your parents found out."

"Okay. Well, my dad seemed okay with it and everything."

"Well, that's good at least."

She ran a fingertip along his jaw, kissing him there.

"You forgot to shave this morning."

"I didn't forget. I accidentally dropped my razor in the toilet this morning. Don't ask because I'm not even sure I could explain how it happened. The razor itself is fine, the blade not so much. I refuse to shave with a blade dropped in toilet water, even if it was clean. Rusty metal against my face isn't my idea of fun. I know it can't rust that fast and obviously I get it wet when I shave. So, it's probably based on the toilet water more than anything. I have to stop and get some new ones on the way home because of course it was my last one. I thought I had another one, but I guess that was another one ago."


"Since you're here…"


"You want to pick up Holly and be at my place?"

"I could."

"Yeah? I'll let Mrs. Kuzinski know. I told her a couple weeks ago you may once in a while this summer anyway."

"You did, huh?"

"Yes, I told you, you guys waiting for me at my place would not be a bad thing."

"Well, I can, sure. Do I need to do anything with her when I get to your place?"

"Do anything? What do you mean?"

"Well, will I have to feed her? Change her? I don't know. That's what I'm asking."

"She can have a sandwich if you want to make her one, otherwise she can wait until I get home. Milk is in the fridge. You know where her cups and stuff are."


"Changing her shouldn't be an issue. I'll ask Mrs. Kuzinski to do that before you get there. Do you even know how to do that?"


"Change a baby?"

"Well, how hard can it be?"

"Yeah, that's kind of what I thought."

"Hey! Why on earth would I need to know how to do such a thing? Holly's the first baby I've even ever been around in my life."

"You wouldn't. That's a good thing. I'm sure your mother is thrilled that's the case."

"Be nice."

"I'm trying. I'll be home my usual time since you're saving me having to drive and get her. I just have to stop at Osco so I don't look like this tomorrow morning again."


"You sure? If it's too much to ask. I realize hanging out with me when she's with us and doing it by yourself are not the same thing."

"No, it's fine. Except I don't have a seat."

"Yeah, we could switch vehicles."

"You just want to drive my car!"

"Kind of," he said. "It's a convertible-worthy day, Princess."

"Yeah, yeah," she said. "Remind me to give you my keys before I leave."

"You're the best."

"You're only saying that because I just had sex with you."

"Only partially."

"What's the other part?"

"Because I like you. Even if you deserve better."

"Don't say that," she said.

"Just stating the obvious."

"Better than someone who actually likes me and treats me decently?"

"Yeah, sure, you know, a guy who can take you out on the dates you want to go on."

"It was one time."

"Once too many. A guy who your mother won't have a heart attack about you being involved with."

"It's fine, John. I don't think there's a mother out there who likes their daughter's boyfriend at first. I knew you had Holly when I agreed to go out with you."

"You did," he agreed. "And in case I forgot to say it, thank you for lunch. I liked the first part a lot more than the sub."

"I'm sure you did."

"You don't have to come all this way just to bring me lunch, you know. I mean, I like when you do."

"I don't have anything else to do."

"Thank you," he said.

"I'm sorry, that's not how I meant it! It gives me something to do, an excuse to see you and after I left yesterday morning and then I wasn't sure you were mad or not."

"Not mad. Just worried, I guess. No one else knows. Well, Dawson knows. I can't help but think people in your world start finding out you're going to start to get pressured to do the expected thing."

"Expected thing?"

"Dump the guy with the baggage."

"Holly is not baggage."

"Holly is a pretty significant handicap compared to other guys out there who don't have to worry about babysitters and switching cars with you because you don't have a car seat."

She shrugged. "I don't want other guys, John. I've never wanted other guys."

"I don't pretend to understand it."

"I don't either. Are you supposed to be able to explain what your heart feels?"

"I guess not."

"Then please stop worrying about it."

"I worry. Your dad knows. Your mom won't be too far behind."


"So, did you have that, uh, talk with him?"

"Yes," she said, knowing she was blushing profusely.


"He basically just wanted to be sure I knew what I was doing and that I was being responsible."

"Because I can't be?"

"No, he told me he realizes you obviously made a mistake. He just wanted to be sure, I guess. You know? I've never had sex before. He, I'm sure, is aware of that."


"John, don't worry about it so much."

"Says you!"

"Yes, says me, the one who knows her dad."

"So, you think maybe sometime this week you can give me the number of someone to call for a babysitter."

"This week?"

"Well, yeah, I'm going to need to find someone for Friday or Saturday."

"What's Friday or Saturday?"

"A night I take you out."

"Oh. Where are we going?"

"I haven't decided yet. No movies or anything?"

"No, not yet. It's only Monday."

"All right. Well, get me the number and I'll figure out the rest. You might maybe tell your friend or the sister I'm calling so it's not out of the blue. I can just imagine what one of your friends would do if I called their house."

"Sure, I can do that."

"Thank you," he said. "You bought me lunch so what do you want for dinner?"

"I'll be fine."

"Fine? What's that mean? You have to eat dinner. Or are you going to leave as soon as I get home? You didn't get grounded or anything, did you?"

"No, but you don't have to do anything special for me. I assume you'd cook something ordinarily."

"Yeah. For me. I can do better than that for you."

"Well, we can do whatever you normally do."

"You're sure?"

"John, yes, I'm positive."

"All right, I'll see you later then. If you want me to pick up something to make now's the time to say something."

"Whatever you want."

"Are you going to help me cook it?"

"I can," she said.

"As long as you bring my shirt back and wear it while helping me."

"I think I can abide by those terms."

"Abide by them, huh? Okay then. I'll see you later. And thank you for lunch, but really, quit bringing him lunch, too."

"But you just said…"

"I don't like you buying other guys lunch. He can buy his own."

"Fine," she said.

"Thank you," he said. He reached into the pocket of his pants and pulled out his keys. "Be nice to my car, Princess."

"I will do my best."

"I know you will. I'll walk you out there."

"Thank you."

"You don't try to stop me anymore."

"No, I understand why you do it."

"Good," he said.

Return to Top

***Chapter Thirteen***
Word Count: 4,546

He groaned when he heard the sound of the door opening. He wasn't anywhere near being ready thanks to Holly. She'd managed to get the top off of her cup of milk somehow. He hadn't been watching close enough to know how she'd managed it exactly. Both of them and the floor had been covered in milk. She'd borne the brunt of it so he'd had to get her a last minute bath. He'd had to change his clothes, too, and then clean up the mess in the kitchen. The door opening meant it was later than he realized.

Claire was doing him a favor by picking the babysitter up since she lived in Claire's neighborhood. Her idea since she had to come here anyway. Fuck if he could pick her up at her house like a normal guy going on a date with her would. That was an issue for another time, though. He knew he had to carefully pick his battles. Her dad knew, that was a start. He knew that he was supposed to pick up the babysitter. She'd offered and he couldn't argue with her logic, but now that they were here it felt a little wrong that he'd let her. On the other hand, he might have paid good money to hear what her friend Linda's reaction was to finding out that Claire was bringing her sister here because she was the reason he needed a babysitter.

"Hi Holly," he heard Claire say.

"You look like you just got out of the bath," she said.

Yes, she sure did. The milk had missed getting in his hair, but not hers. There was no way he could get away with not giving her a bath. Well, he could've but by morning she would have smelled pretty rank of sour milk.

He'd been more than surprised they did all right Monday for the little while they were alone together. He'd expected. Well, he wasn't sure what he'd expected exactly. He knew Claire didn't know anything about kids. His knowledge was limited at best himself. He certainly wouldn't claim to know everything or anything. They were watching a movie of Holly's, eating some crackers when he'd gotten home from work that day. Claire had put Holly's hair up in pigtails, which John had to admit was pretty cute. He didn't do things like that to her hair. He supposed he would need to learn because Holly sure seemed to like it.

"Does her dad get a hi, too?" he asked when he came into the living room finally. She looked very nice. Really nice. He thought he'd dressed nicely and everything since it was an actual date with other people around, but wow. He was going to have to check his doubts at the door. He knew this. She could afford things, like nice clothes, that he couldn't. He didn't look like a slob, but nice for him was a way different scale than it was for her. She knew that, though.

"I was wondering where he was."

"He was running late because someone spilled her milk all over the floor."

"Oh," Claire said. "On purpose?"

"No, she got the top off somehow. Hopefully it was just a fluke because if I don't have to clean up an entire cup of milk again I'd be a happy guy."

"I was wondering why the mop was out."

"That would be why, yes."

He regarded Linda's sister, Lori. She didn't look anything like Linda. John didn't know Linda well or anything. Then he didn't know anyone in Claire's crowd well. He was pretty sure Linda had answered the phone when he'd called Tuesday after work, but he didn't know for sure. He hadn't identified himself and neither had she, but Lori hadn't answered and the voice sounded too young to be their mother.

John couldn't deny she'd picked a great person to refer him to. She babysat for a neighbor during the summer. He'd made sure, triple checking that she didn't mind babysitting on her day off, but she'd insisted she didn't. He didn't get it, he couldn't imagine wanting to work on cars on his day off. Then he supposed cars and kids weren't the same thing.

He showed her around, which took all of about ten minutes. Holly was ready for bed since he'd had to clean her up after the milk anyway. So, basically she'd only have to help her brush her teeth and put her to bed.

God, he was nervous as he shut the door to his apartment behind them. He could count on one hand how many times he'd had an actual date in his life and still have most of his fingers left over. She accounted for each of them, too. If the day they took Holly to the aquarium could be counted as a date. He wasn't sure exactly it did, but he considered it one. This was different than their two dates in January, though. They did things together when he'd gone to see her in Iowa but he wouldn't exactly consider them dates. They'd hardly left his apartment the weekend she'd come here for Holly's birthday in April. So tonight was the first one in a while for both of them. They were seeing the James Bond movie with another couple. So other people would see them together, know they were on a date. That was what made him nervous more than anything.

The movie wasn't so bad, not much he could say wrong there. Dinner afterward hadn't been awful. She'd chosen decent friends to go out with tonight apparently. He was sure her friend was wondering what the fuck she was doing with him, but she wasn't rude or anything. It probably helped that he wasn't either. He knew it worked both ways, people were rude to him because he was first in some cases. Defense mechanism. He could acknowledge that was why he was the way he was. Better to have no friends than to have them and bail on him because of his parents.

They seemed decent, though. If they thought John's job was as common as they came they didn't let on to that fact, so that was a bonus in his mind.

"That wasn't bad at all," he said near her car. He wasn't sure she was going to let him drive back to his apartment or not. He had no problems driving her car, but he didn't want her to think that was all he wanted from her or anything.

"I'm glad you thought so."

He slid his arms around her, drawing her toward him so he could kiss her. He hadn't kissed her since leaving his apartment. She drew away far too quickly. He groaned softly at that. She was proving to be a bit standoffish tonight. He wasn't sure if it was him or just the way she was.

"You mean I can't even kiss you?" he asked.

"I did kiss you."

He scowled a bit. "Come on. You call that a kiss? That was barely a kiss I'd give Holly."

"John," she said, drawing a way a bit.

"I gotcha, someone might see. Wouldn't want anyone to think you do something as common as make out with your boyfriend."

"That's not it. It's just," she shrugged. "This is new to me."

"And it's not to me? People kiss in public."

"I know."

It was so strange to have to behave differently in public. Why was it okay to kiss him at his apartment but not here? He didn't get it, but he supposed he wasn't supposed to. He sighed softly. Maybe some other time when it wasn't new to her. Whatever that meant.

He glanced at his watch, noticing the time. Dinner hadn't taken that long and her friend evidently had an earlier curfew than she did so they still had time to kill before he'd told Lori they'd be back.

"We have time yet before I told her we'd be back. What do you want to do with the rest of it?"

"We don't have to do anything. Really."

"You sure? We could stop for ice cream or something. I hear that's a thing to do."

"I'm fine."

"Okay," he said. "If you're sure. I don't know what you had in mind or anything."

"It's fine."

"That means our night is going to end earlier than I thought it was going to."

"It doesn't have to."


"Well, you could bring Lori home and I could wait for you. That way you don't have to wake Holly up."

He tugged her closer to him again, lowering his mouth to her ear. "I like the sound of that. What time do you have to be home exactly?"

"Well, I told my dad we had plans," she said.

"Oh," he said.

"I could stay for a couple of hours I guess. Two probably would be the latest."

"Okay. Let's do that then."

She kissed him. Still not a great kiss, but it was one she initiated in public.

"Thank you," he whispered, finding her neck for a second. He nipped at the skin there, grazing it with his tongue before he heard his name being called. And not from her.


"Are you kidding me?" he whispered.

"What?" Claire asked.

"It's Betty," he whispered.

"Here?" she asked.


"What are you doing here?" Betty asked. She was with a group of people. John recognized a couple of them. None of them were good or anyone he'd want Holly around. (Ironic him thinking that, he realized.)

"Uh, eating?"

"Where's Holly?"

"With a sitter," he said.


"So I could go out. I don't have a mom and a dad I can leave her with whenever I want to."

"Who's this?"

"My girlfriend."

She scoffed at that. "No, really. Who is she?"

"That's really who she is," he said.

She was eyeing Claire with interest now and he knew Claire noticed it, too. He wouldn't deny he was pretty sure Betty expected him to get with her when he found out she was pregnant. He still to this day didn't get it, and she'd picked the wrong guy thinking her getting pregnant would get him to want to settle down. Shit, he was sixteen. He had no thoughts of settling down. The group she was with had gone on into the restaurant ahead of her. They'd get a table no doubt.

"So she has to be rich and spread her legs for you in order to get to be your girlfriend? Is that it?"

"Hey," Claire said. John squeezed her wrist. He knew she didn't like him doing that, but she'd never seen Betty get full-blown pissed before. John had and didn't want that here in the parking lot of a very public restaurant on their first date in town where people would know and recognize all of them.

"Come on, Betty. Really? That's what you come up with. It's been three years. We had sex. We never dated or did anything resembling it. You knew that, too, so don't pull that shit on her tonight."

"So you take her from me so you can date?"

"Uh, I took her from you because I had her the majority of the time anyway. Your parents did more of the work than you did. You haven't seen her in over two months. Why am I justifying myself to you?"

"If she's hanging around my daughter I want to know about it. I deserve to know what you're doing with her. And what you're doing in front of her."

"Oh, you mean as opposed to the stellar crowd you're here with tonight. Allen and Joey they're a couple of winners there. They supplying you your eight-balls now? The only reason you didn't do that shit in front of Holly was because you could leave her with me or your parents so you didn't have to."

"Shut up."

"You're lucky I didn't bring up half the shit I know. I could've you know. If I was trying to be a complete dick. I just want her where she's wanted."

She laughed at that.

"Wanted her? That's hilarious. Is that what you told her to get into her pants? You wanted her all along? Don't lie in front of her. You never wanted her. Don't get all high and mighty now."

"You're right, I didn't. Of course not. What sixteen year old guy would? I'm not that guy anymore. I grew up because you didn't really give me a choice, something you should do, too. If you had I wouldn't have custody of her."

"You can keep her."

"Are you going to come see her sometime?"

"I don't know. Maybe tomorrow."

"Right," he said. He doubted that'd happen. He didn't really care other than for Holly's sake. If he never saw her again it wouldn't bother him any generally speaking. "Well, you know my number. Call first."

"Is she going to be there?"

"Uh, I don't know. Probably."

"You living with him?"

"What?" Claire asked, looking a little surprised at actually being dragged into the conversation. Betty's comments until now had been about her but not said to her directly. "No!"

He chuckled softly at that.

"Come by, don't come by, but if you could call first to be sure I'm home that'd be great. I only have two days off a week, you know, so I try and do things with her."

"Like hire babysitters."

"The first time in over two months I've been away from her other than my job. We left at six o'clock, so I was with her most of the time she was awake today. Again. Why am I justifying myself to you? Maybe if you took her for a weekend once in a while I wouldn't have to pay a sitter and she'd spend time with both of her parents."

"I'm surprised you even told her about her. You don't tell anyone else."

"I don't hide her from anyone. Of course she knows about her."

She regarded Claire with far more interest than John wanted her to. Did she recognize her? It was possible. John never stopped to think she could've known Claire's brother. He doubted it. Her brother didn't hang around with the type of people John hung out with four years ago. It was possible, though.

"Whatever. Later," she said, walking toward the restaurant and her friends there.

"What is she on?" Claire asked?

"I have no idea," he said. She hadn't been able to sit still or stop fidgeting the entire time they talked. He glanced at Claire. "You still think she's pretty?"

"She was!"

"Yeah," he said. "Let's go then."

"You're not driving?" she asked.

"Yeah, sure," he said, opening her door for her.

"You all right?" she asked in the car.

"I'm fine. I just wasn't planning on running into her tonight."

"I know," she said.

"I don't really care. I just feel bad for you. And for Holly."

"Did she mean it? Do you think?"

"That I could keep her?" he shrugged as he pulled out of the parking lot. "She probably means it for now, sure. I used, but I wasn't as far gone as she and those she's with tonight are. I just used to get out of my head for a while. Escape from the shit that was around me. You know?"

"I do," she said.

"I haven't touched anything stronger than a joint since I started having her weekends."

"I believe you," she said.

"I wouldn't have that shit around her. Never mind working where I do being on something could be dangerous not just to me but to Dawson, too."

"John, I believe you."

"I'm glad. I know what people think…"

"I'm not those people!"

"You sure you don't want to stop somewhere?"


"All right. I feel like you're cutting our night short or something. We told her midnight."

"I'm not. We're fine."

"All right. Did you have fun at least?"


"You liked the movie?"

"Yes," she said.


"Did you?"

"It's James Bond. What's not to like?"

She laughed softly. "I guess so."

"And your friends didn't hate me, so there is that."

"No one's going to hate you, John, unless you do something to make them."

"If you say so."

"I do."

He dropped Lori off. He didn't walk her to the door, but he did wait to pull out of the driveway until he saw she was inside. As it turned out, Claire had a couple of friends who had younger sisters Lori's age or younger so he had a few numbers to call for the next time they wanted to go out.

God, running into Betty had really bothered him. He didn't want her to know anything about his life. It was bad enough she knew where he worked. She had to, he realized, but it still bothered him she had that kind of access to him.

He got back to the apartment and found Claire in his room. He'd invested in a second alarm clock so she'd never oversleep again. She'd insisted he didn't need to walk her to her car every night so a couple of times this week he barely heard the alarm go off. It was a shitty way to wake up in the morning, though, that half of the bed empty and cold when she'd been in it when he fell asleep.

"Lori got home okay?"

"She did," he said, sitting on the edge of the bed.


"She seems nice."

"She is. I always thought so anyway."

"Thank you."

"Sure," she said.

"No, really, thank you. I don't know anyone who could babysit. Believe it or not it bothered me last weekend we couldn't go."

"I know, John, it's fine. We worked it out."

"It occurs to me I should apologize for what Betty said."

"You didn't say it."

"I know, but it wasn't nice. I'm sure she's not the only one who that will occur to, though."

"Hopefully they will know me well enough to know I'm not like that."

"You certainly aren't a tease anyway."

"Only with you," she said.

"I wish you didn't have to go home," he said, sliding a fingertip along her arm.

"Me, too. I'm here now, though," she said.

"You are," he said, drawing back the covers so he could join her. "And practically naked, too."

"You're just now noticing that?"

"I'm a little slow."

"I like when you're slow."

He chuckled softly at that, standing so he could slide his jeans and shirt off to catch up to her before joining her on the bed.

"This I could get used to."


"You like this in my bed."

"You like it?"

"I do," he said, sliding her panties off so she was no longer practically naked. "You don't need to leave those on, you know?"

"I know," she said.

"Leaving me something to do?"

She shrugged.

"All right, be mysterious. I like undressing you so it's okay. I'm just saying, don't leave them on because you think you have to."

He slid his hands along her legs to her hips as he shifted on the bed between her legs. She murmured softly as he found her nub with his tongue. He loved doing this. He loved when she shifted underneath him, granting him better access so he could get her off this way. He moved on top of her, finding a breast as he slid inside of her. She ran her fingers along his back, lower to his hips as she arched into his thrusts. She touched him so well, as if she really wanted to and that blew him away a lot of the time because he wasn't used to it.

He groaned softly as she clenched around him. She did that at the perfect time. Or the worst depending on how he looked at it, because he always seemed to finish when she did that. She felt too good around him like that. Tonight was no different. She didn't move under him, letting him continue licking and sucking her. He was mindful of her bathing suit and where he could and couldn't leave these anymore. There was always the chance her mother would see. (A part of him wanted her mom to see.)

"It occurred to me while we were sitting at dinner."

"What did?" she asked.

"Your friends. Do you know anyone but me who doesn't live with their parents still?"

"Um, no," she said, shaking her head.

"So, people like Abby and Mark. What do they do?"


"Yeah," he said with a shrug as he kissed her stomach before moving beside her. "You know, to do this."

"Oh," she said. "I have no idea. Their car? Their houses when their parents aren't there?"

"I just hadn't thought about it before tonight."

"I hadn't either."

"That would really suck," he said.

She laughed softly. "You managed."

"Well, sure, when I was like fifteen it didn't matter to me. Now I sure would hate to sneak around as if I was doing something wrong."

"I know."

He sighed softly, running a fingertip along her hip. "At least I can visit you next year easier than this year."

"I know," she said. "I understood why you couldn't after that one time. Holly in a dorm room wouldn't have worked."

"I'm glad you realize that."

"I do."

She was living in an apartment off-campus next year. It was a smaller apartment she said, but she wouldn't have a roommate. He wasn't sure she'd thought on what they'd be able to do with Holly when he went to visit her, but he imagined they'd figure it out. She'd be out of her crib by then most likely. Mrs. Kuzinski had told John more than once he was lucky she was still sleeping in one now. He'd watched her since she'd said that and saw more than once she was to the point of trying to climb out. That meant, though, that she'd be used to sleeping in a regular bed by then. He hoped so anyway.

"Why Iowa anyway?"

"What?" she asked.

"Why'd you choose Iowa?"

"As opposed to where?"

"I don't know. Somewhere around here?"

"It's a good school."

"Northwestern is a good school. U of Chicago is a good school."

"I know. I don't know. Why?"

He shrugged.

"I'm going to get used to having you here every night at least for a while for months and then you're going to go away."

"I know," she said. "I've thought of that, too."

"You have?"

"Yes," she said.

"If you were here then I could go to school in the fall, too."

"You could?"

"I got accepted at a community college. I was thinking I could take some night classes. I figured I could take them around the one night I had Holly."

"Oh," she said.

"Yeah," he said. "I applied before so wasn't thinking it'd be an issue. So, now I can't really go. I'd be working essentially to pay a sitter to babysit her nights."

"What about Betty's parents?"

"I'm not so sure they'd be willing to help me out every week, you know? I'm not their son."

"No, I know."

He shrugged. "I know you're not a babysitter either, I was just thinking about that this week."

"Me babysitting?"

"No. I mean, yes, but no. The day you picked Holly up for me I thought that."

"What would you go to school for?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. I didn't really get past the application and acceptance stage. Something with my hands, I suppose. That's what I'm good at."

"You have a brain."

"I know. I don't know what to do other than things with my hands, though." He slid his hand along her stomach. "You certainly like what I can do with them."

"I do," she said.


She laughed softly. "You'd actually go?"

"Go where?"

"To school?"

"Yeah, I realize I have to do something to support Holly for the next sixteen plus years. And I figure if I get some college and a better job then it's less likely Betty could just take her from me because she cleans up her act and decides she wants to be a mom again. Never mind it'd be nice not to come home from work filthy every day."

"Right," she said.

"I mean, I realize today I say that if she does clean up her act and wants her back I'd be willing to give her back, but I'm not sure how I'll feel if that happens if it's a couple years from now. You know?"

"I get it, that'd be hard to just give her up again."

"Right. I don't know how I'd feel. I mean I like to think I'd think she deserves to be with her mom, but if she's used to me and we're doing all right."

"That's not a bad way of thinking. Not all moms are meant to be moms."

"Anyway, it's just going to suck, having you here every night and then not."

"I know," she said. "What about school in Iowa?"

"I'm not sure I could take Holly away like that. I'd have to talk to your dad, I guess."

"Oh," she said.

"Yeah, something tells me that's not a conversation I want to be having with him right now. I think Betty could stop me if she wanted to, though. Iowa isn't that far, but it's still out of state and would make it more difficult to visit her."

"That's stupid."

"It wouldn't be so stupid if it was the other way around and I could stop her."

"Well, no," Claire agreed. "I get it."

"Two o'clock?" he asked.

"Yeah, at the latest," she whispered.

"Not long enough."

"I know."

"I liked waking up to you last weekend even if you were bitchy."

"I was only bitchy because I wasn't supposed to sleep the whole night here!"

"I know. We need to fix that."

"I don't know how."

"Tell them you're spending the night…"

"Dad would know."

He sighed. "I suppose. During the week he may not. He knows I have a job."

"Let me think about it."

"Think fast, Princess. It's not that long of a time until September."

"Tell me about it. Do you want me to come over tomorrow?"

"Why wouldn't I?"

"Well, if Betty comes here…"

"That's a huge if. I'm not counting on it happening and I'm not adjusting my plans to suit her needs. That means you here with us and us doing something."

"I was just making sure."

"I'm sure I want you here."

"Okay," she said.

"You sound as if you're getting sleepy."

"A little."

"We can't have that."

She laughed softly. "I set the alarm while you were taking Lori home!"

"I'm not sure I was worried about you needing the alarm."

She moved on top of him.

"I see what you were worried about," she whispered as she slid her hand along his length.

"I told you he likes you."

"I'd be worried if he didn't."

"Me, too," he said as she guided him into her.

Return to Top

***Chapter Fourteen***
Word Count: 2,946

"So, did you knock her up or something?" Dawson asked John in the back area.

"Who?" John asked.

Was he supposed to know what his boss was talking about? Never mind he'd surprised the shit out of him walking back here like he did. He hadn't been expecting him and almost dropped a part as a result. Never mind breaking the part, his foot wouldn't have fared too well if he'd done that.

"Claire. That's who."

"No, why?" John asked with a frown. "What the fuck are you talking about?" he asked. Jesus Chris. He swore he never wanted to hear those words again in his life. Well, at least for a while anyway. A few years from now when she was done with school and stuff. Maybe. That was a huge maybe. Having Holly full time would probably be a huge factor in whether he wanted to do that again ever.

"Her dad is here to see you."

"Claire's dad is here?"

"That's what I said."

"Oh," John said with a frown.

That could potentially be bad on two very different fronts. He could be here to warn him away from his daughter. Or he could be here to tell him that Betty had been pissed off enough after seeing him on a date with someone over the weekend that she was challenging the custody ruling. John didn't think it worked that way. He'd left Holly with a responsible sitter. He had no drugs in his apartment. He had a couple of beers in the fridge, which perhaps he should rethink keeping until he knew Betty wasn't going to freak out.

"You're sure?"

"I'm positive."

"He doesn't look very happy."

"He's a busy guy," John said. Very busy actually so coming all the way here probably was costing him a lot of billable hours.

"Better go see what he wants then."

"You're staying back here?"

"I don't want to intrude," Dawson said.

"Right," John said with a scoff.

"You can use my office."

"Thanks," John said.

He made his way up to the front of the garage, mulling over in his mind what he could possibly be here for that was good. Nothing. He came up with nothing good.

"Mr. Standish," he said, offering the man his hand. He regarded it briefly before taking it. John couldn't blame him, but he'd stopped in the bathroom to wash them first so they weren't dirty at the moment.

"I was hoping you had a minute."

"Sure," John said.

"I'm sorry to intrude at work, but catching you at home when Claire isn't there might prove to be difficult."

"Right," John said. So it was about Claire and something he didn't want Claire to know about evidently. "Sure. My boss said we could use his office if you want to sit down or something."

"No, I won't be long."

"All right."

"I'd just like to know what you think your intentions are with my daughter exactly."

"Exactly? I'm not sure I can answer that." Fuck, she was pregnant. That's why he was here asking him this question. "We haven't been dating that long really. Have I done something wrong?"

"Other than letting her stay out all night?"

"It was an accident and it won't happen again."

"She's assured me that's the case."

"It won't."

"She's suddenly taken an interest in transferring schools."

"Oh," John said.

"You didn't know that?"

"No, Sir. She hasn't said anything to me about it."

"You haven't talked to her today?"

"No. I haven't talked to her since yesterday. She said she was going to be busy today."

"You didn't ask what she was going to be busy doing?"

"Well, no, I figured if she wanted to tell me she'd tell me. Busy is busy. I mean, I realize she has other things to do with her time than just hang out with me."

"How is Holly acclimating to the change in households?"

"She seems to be doing all right. I haven't had any problems. She was with me four nights of the week anyway, now it's just every day. She probably missed Betty's parents, but I can't really help that. If they called wanting to see her I'd let them, but they haven't."

"Her mother hasn't come to see her either?"

"No. Claire and I ran into her over the weekend, I asked her if she was going to but I haven't heard from her since."

"You're documenting all of this?"

"Yes, Sir."

"She hasn't offered you any support either?"

John scoffed at that, realizing that wasn't an answer.

"No," he said.

He really didn't want money from Betty anyway. He knew he was in his right to get it from her, but he wasn't going to do that. He figured if he did decide to go the abandonment route he'd let her dig her own grave. He was getting by all right without whatever measly amount she'd be able to give him.

"So you haven't asked Claire to transfer schools?"

"What? Me? No," John said. He shook his head. "No, I did mention that I'd been accepted at a community college but probably wouldn't be able to swing going now. I'd applied before getting custody of Holly."

"I can't stop her from transferring. Both schools she's looking at are just fine, but if I start to hear her talking about dropping out…"

"No, Sir, I wouldn't let her do that anyway. I mean, not on my account. If she transfers, which I didn't ask her to do, the only thing she'd help me out by doing would be to babysit Holly the evenings I have class. Otherwise, I'd be working to pay a sitter, which defeats the purpose."

"There are loans."

"Yes, I'm aware. I'd rather not take out more than I have to, though. If I have to, I have to. I didn't ask her to transfer schools, though!"

"I believe you, which is why I'm here. I'd better not hear about Holly getting a brother or sister anytime soon."

Claire had said she and her dad had already had this conversation. Was he supposed to know that? Not know that? Pretend he didn't know they had? He wasn't sure.

"No plans on that, no. I learned my lesson and I'm sure Claire feels equally as adamant about it as I do."

"I'm just making sure we're clear."

"I don't know what you want me to do? Tell her I don't want to go to school anymore? I'd think you'd want me to do that. I mean, you're here asking me what my intentions are, so that suggests you think I have a future with her. I'd do far better for her and Holly going to school than no school."

"I'm aware."

So what did that mean? He was okay with her transferring schools but he wanted them to be careful? Was she going to get an off-campus apartment? Live on-campus and just stay with him the majority of the time? His lease was up at the end of the month so he supposed if he needed to find a new apartment closer to wherever she was going to school he could do that.

"So, she's in Iowa?"

"Yes," he said.

"Oh, I had no idea," he said. So she'd just left town and hadn't told him? Why? Not wanting him to know? Her dad knew so he wasn't sure what the deal was. "I just assumed she was doing something with her friends. The beach or something."

"No," he said. "She hasn't mentioned it to her mother yet."

"Great," John said. Another thing she was withholding from her mother.

"One of these days you will have to meet her."

"It would seem so." There was no way if she was thinking of transferring schools him being the reason wouldn't come out. He could imagine how well that was going to go over. Fantastic.

"She likely won't be nice to you."

She already had been not nice to him, but John refrained from saying so. "I understand."

"Her mother…"

"I've met Mrs. Standish and I'm aware of how she feels about me and my daughter."

"I've mentioned it to Claire I will to you as well, you don't want her on your bad side."

"I have no intentions on doing that, no." That was why he'd invested in the spare alarm clock. He absolutely was not going to take the chance she overslept a second time and ran into her mother that go around.

Was transferring schools a bad thing? Would her mother hold that against him? He wasn't sure. It sounded, from what her dad was saying, she wasn't downgrading school choices or anything. She'd be closer to home. Certainly her mom would like that. Except being closer to home meant being closer to John. She probably wouldn't like that so much.


"So you don't want me to talk her out of transferring?" John asked, to be clear.

"I don't think you could even if I wanted you to. She wasn't super happy in Iowa anyway."

"No," John said. He knew that, but he thought the roommate played a large role in that. "I just wanted to be sure what you were, or weren't, asking me to do."

"Just make sure she gets her degree."

Wow. No pressure at all there or anything.


"Yes, Sir," he said. Funny, he didn't mind calling him sir. He'd been nothing but nice to him, helping him out for nothing all because Claire asked him to do a favor for her. He was probably rethinking doing it these days, but it was too late for that now.

He left then. John watched him get into his BMW and pull off of the parking lot.

"Everything all right," Dawson asked.

"I thought you weren't going to intrude," John said, knowing full well Dawson had been hovering. He probably hadn't been eavesdropping, but John had no doubt his boss knew the second Mr. Standish started to leave.

"I didn't."

"Everything's fine," John said.

"Yeah? It was just a social call then? Everything all right with the kid?"

"Yeah. It sounds like Claire's thinking about transferring schools and he just wanted me to know he was aware it's because of me."

"Oh," Dawson said. "That college thing, right?"


"So, that means you're going to be finishing even earlier?"

"The nights I have class, yes."

"You're lucky I like having you work here, you know that?"

"I do know that," John said. John helped Dawson out, too, though. Two mechanics churned out more business than just one.

"So this transferring thing."


"Is that good or bad?"

"What do you mean?"

"I don't know. Do you want her that close all of the time?"

"What kind of question is that?"

"Just asking. It doesn't sound like she talked to you about it first. Maybe that's not what you want."

"I want."

Dawson gave a low laugh in response to that.

"I'm just not so sure about dealing with her mother."

"Wow. Double dates. The father shows up. And you're contemplating dealings with the mother, too."


"You are so completely whipped."

"And if she wanted to go out with you you wouldn't be?"

"Oh, no no. I'm not saying she's not worth the aggravation. She most definitely would be."

"You don't need to worry about doing any aggravating with her."

"Hey, cheer up. Maybe she'll like being a grandma."

John scoffed at that. "I doubt that, no," he said.

Claire's mom didn't strike him as the grandmotherly type. Then he had no experience with grandmothers himself to know about such things. She just didn't. Hell, John wasn't entirely sure how Claire felt about being … Whatever she was to Holly. Certainly more of a mom figure than her own mother was at the moment. He was pretty confident Betty didn't sit with Holly and watch movies with her like Claire had the afternoon she was alone with her. John wasn't even sure Holly had ever had a pig or pony tail before that day either. Betty could hardly take care of her own hair let alone worry about Holly's. Her parents did their best, but he knew things like doing hair exceeded what they were willing to do. Justified or not, it wasn't fair to Holly.


"You're very lucky I don't own a gun, you know that?" he asked when she crawled into bed with him much later. She knew he wouldn't be expecting her, but she also knew no one else had a key to his apartment.

"I know you don't own one," she said, sliding her foot along his calf.

"A phone call telling me you were driving back from Iowa tonight might have been nice."

"I thought you'd prefer the surprise."


"Yes, I'm here for the night. Unless you'd rather I go home…"


"Yup. Dad thinks I'm gone until tomorrow."


"I know, right?"

"And no I wouldn't rather you go home."

"I'm glad," she said.

"I do have to ask if you're sure you know what you're doing, though."

"I knew he'd go talk to you."

"Did you now? A little warning might have been nice."

She shrugged, sliding first her panties off and then his shorts.

"You said it'd be nice…"

"It was hypothetical. I wasn't expecting you to go out this week and look into transferring."

"Why not? College is college. Law school is law school. I mean, it's not like Northwestern is a bad school."

"True," he said with a soft hitch to his voice as she ran her fingers along his chest and lower.

"The apartment I was going to rent is in high enough demand the landlord will find someone else to take it."

"Why'd you have to go to Iowa?"

"To get a copy of my transcript."


"Faster than requesting it by mail and then waiting for it to get here."

"Oh," he said.

She straddled him, kissing his chest before scooting lower along him.

"You know, not that I don't appreciate what you're doing here," he said, groaning softly when she took him into her mouth. "A lot. Fuck. A lot."

"Yes?" she asked, sliding him out of her mouth.

"I didn't say stop!"

She chuckled softly and went back to what she was doing. He slid a hand to her hair, running his fingers through it as she slid her mouth along the length of him.

"Fuck, Claire. We should talk about this, don't you think? I mean, this isn't changing apartments. You're changing schools."

She shrugged, taking him deeper into her mouth. As deep as she could take him and kept her mouth there for as long as she could. She wasn't great at doing this, but she was better than she was the first couple of times. He was very good about not trying to force himself deeper into her mouth than she could take him.

"Stop that," he said, but she knew he didn't mean it.

She started licking and sucking faster, working her mouth over his length and using a hand to touch the base of him.

"Fuck. All right. You win. Do whatever the fuck you want as long as you don't ever stop doing that," he whispered. She crazily got incredibly wet just then, hearing him say that. Not that she wasn't already wet. The idea of surprising him, knowing she'd get all night with him pretty much assured she was wet as soon as she pulled onto his parking lot.

He was close. She could tell because he whispered things she knew he wouldn't say otherwise. Things that should probably make her feel incredibly dirty, but they never did coming from him. She liked hearing him say them, how much he'd dreamt of doing just this to her mouth before he ever did.

He gasped then and grew still beneath her as she continued licking and sucking until he was done coming.

"That is incredibly unfair," he whispered a few minutes later.


"You knew I was going to want to talk about this."

"I did," she whispered.

"You used your mouth to get your way."

"Did it work?"

"I already told you you can do whatever the fuck you want."

"You're not mad?"

"Mad? At which part? The transferring or the fact you just crawled into bed with me and gave me a very good blow job?"

"The transferring?"

"Not mad, no," he said, finding her hand that was touching him lightly and sliding it up to his stomach. "I just want to make sure you know what you're doing. I mean, I won't deny I got very excited at the idea of not just going to school but seeing you more often than once a month at best in a one bedroom apartment."

"I know," she whispered, kissing his thigh. He groaned again as she started leaving a mark on his inner thigh. She liked doing this for some reason not as much as on his neck, though. It was still fun.

"Where are you going to live?"

"I figured on-campus then my dad wouldn't freak out as much."

"He'll still know where you're staying the bulk of your nights."

"I know," she said.

"My lease is up the end of this month. If you know you're going to Northwestern I can look into something a little closer."

"That'd be nice," she said.


"Uh huh," she said.

"I'll do that then. I don't want you to have to spend any more nights in a dorm room than you absolutely have to."

"None," she said.

"I couldn't agree more."

Return to Top

***Chapter Fifteen***
Word Count: 4,481

"I'm sorry, you're what?" her mother asked.

"Transferring to Northwestern," Claire said. Her mother had heard her the first time. She didn't really have to repeat herself.


"I wasn't really happy at Iowa. Daddy knew that."

"What's not to be happy about? It's an excellent school."

"I know it is, Mother, that doesn't mean I was happy there."

"You've always wanted to go away from home."

"Well, I'm not going to live here. I'm getting a room on-campus." She'd been sort of surprised her dad hadn't argued with her about that, making her live here at home as part of the deal of letting her transfer without a fight. He knew why she was transferring and likely why she wanted to live on-campus despite insisting after last year she'd never live in a dorm again.

"Frank? You knew about this? Why didn't you do something to stop her?"

"Do what exactly?" her father asked. "She's an adult. I can't stop her."

"You're paying for her schooling!"

"If she was transferring to a school I'd never heard of I certainly would, however, Northwestern is a very good school, Emily."

"You let her do whatever she wants. She gets away with too much. Christopher never transferred schools."

Claire bit her lower lip to stop from saying what was clamoring to come out.

No, he hadn't transferred schools, but he'd quit his job and taken a winter off to be a ski bum out in Colorado.

Evidently her older brother had been forgiven for his transgression already. Or he was about to be because Claire had given her mother something new to be upset about.

"I don't like it."

"You don't have to like it, Mother."

Her father cleared his throat. "Perhaps, Claire, you should be honest with your mother."

"Honest?" her mother asked.

"Dad," Claire said.

"Tell her the complete truth, Claire."

Claire sighed softly. She'd been hoping not to have to deal with this yet. She was hoping that maybe her mother would meet John once or twice and see he wasn't so bad before finding out they were dating.

"I want to be closer to my boyfriend so I can help him so he can go to school in the fall, too."

"Your boyfriend?" her mother asked.

"Yes, Mother, I know you know what one of those is. You married Dad, so you have to have had one at least once before in your life."

"Don't get smart with me."

"I can't help it. You're looking at me as if I've sprouted a second hand. I realize I haven't had one before now."

"What sort of help does he need that you're transferring schools?"

"A babysitter."

"Claire Marie! You are not dating that young man your father helped."

"I am," she said.

"I forbid it."

"Emily," Frank said cautiously. "Forbidding her isn't going to stop her. You know that as well as I do."

"She can't do this, Frank. He has a child."

"He does. I've met him. I've met his daughter, too. Can you take my word for it that he seems like a sincere fellow? Is he who I would have chosen for her to date? No, but I can't dictate who she dates and neither can you."

"Sincere until she ends up just like that child's poor mother."

"That child's mother lied to him, Mother! She tricked him! Not every guy is the guilty party and not ever girl is a saint."

"He's just telling you that…"

"I'm not getting pregnant. I've been dating him for months and you haven't even known it. Give me some credit! I want to finish school. He wants to go to school, too. He has a job because he has a child to support, so I'm going to help him."

"How will you get your work done?"

"I will be fine. He didn't ask me to do this. I thought of it on my own because I know he wants to do more for a job than what he's currently doing."

"What does he do?"

"He's a mechanic," Claire said.

"I still don't like it."

"You don't have to like it, you're not dating him. I am. It hasn't affected my grades or anything else and I've been dating him since January."

"School gets harder."

"I know it does. I will study. She's not going to be living with me. It's only a few hours in the evenings while he's at school. It won't be every night either."

"Do you even understand what goes into babysitting a small child?"

"Yes. I've sat with her before."

"That's not every evening, Claire. It's hard work."

"I know that, but it's not fair to him."

"He's not my son."

"No, but wouldn't you feel better knowing I'm dating someone who's going to college than someone who isn't?"

"I'd prefer you not date him at all."

"I know you would."

"Frank. You've known about this and let it continue? You knew how I felt about him. Do something!"

"Emily, what do you suggest I do? Lock her in her room? She wouldn't finish school then either."

"Now you're taking the same flippant tone with me she is."

"Be reasonable, Emily. If you can't trust Claire who has done nothing to deserve that than trust me. I've already told both of them she had best finish school."

"Mother. It's Northwestern! Just think I'll be closer to home. I can come home for Sunday dinners."

"Emily. Meet the fellow. Give him a chance. This is someone who sought custody of his daughter despite his life being easier without her full-time. Claire gave him the tool to use he didn't have to call me, but he chose to do that."

"I have!"

"You have not," Claire said. "You answered the door a couple of times and basically slammed it in his face. That's not meeting someone that's dismissing them."

"I didn't want anyone like him coming around here looking for you."

"That's why I haven't told you before now I was dating him."

"Frank, if something happens."

"Emily. What gives you the idea that Claire's going to behave any differently than she has all of her life?"

"She's transferring schools on a whim."

"It's not a whim, Mother. Again, I wasn't happy at Iowa. Had I thought about transferring before he mentioned wanting to go to school but not being able to? No, but he did and the idea occurred to me that I could switch schools, be happier, be closer to home, and help him out at the same time."

"That still shouldn't be your goal."

"It's not my goal, Mom. It's called being a human being, caring for someone. I want him to succeed because he's a good guy and he really loves his daughter. I want him to succeed for her because I want her to have everything she deserves. That's not wrong! If you gave him two seconds you'd see that and that means you'd see he can love me, too."

"Claire, you just deserve so much better."

"Mom, there's nothing wrong with him. He made a mistake, one he's taking responsibility for. Why is that bad?"

"Your grades better not suffer."

"They're not going to! I know how important my grades are. So does he."

She left the room then, leaving Claire with her dad.

"Did I have to tell her now?"

"You've waited long enough, don't you think?"

"No," Claire said.

"Better now, Claire. She'll have the summer to get used to the idea that you're not her little girl anymore."

"Great," Claire said. "I don't want her thinking about that."

Her dad chuckled softly. "No more than we do, I'm sure. She has to meet him. I told him that, too."

"I know."

"This way it's out there and hopefully she'll come to the same conclusion on her own before school starts when he'll be extremely busy."

"I know."

"You do know that, right?"

"What?" she asked. What was he asking her?

"That he's going to be very busy."

"Yes," she said with a frown.

"I know you say that, but you don't have to work and go to school. He does. Throw a child into the equation. He may not have as much time for you as he does currently."

"I'm aware," she said. "I want him to go!"

"I know. I'm just making sure you understand the free time he has now may not exist in a few months."

"I do."

"You're going out?"


"Be sure you're not late tonight of all nights. I'm going to get an earful already I don't need to hear about you coming in after curfew, too."

"I won't be," she said. "He has to work tomorrow morning anyway." Not that that stopped her from staying at his place much later than she should most of the nights. She knew now that her mom knew that she'd have to be extra careful. Her mom couldn't really ground her or anything, but she could do something like take her car away. A downfall, she supposed, of owning nothing herself. She supposed when it got down to it, she could ground her, too, since she was still living in their house.


"So she knows," John said simply.

"Yes. Dad practically made me tell her."

"Oh," John said.

"I mean, I was planning on telling her. I just thought she could actually meet you first, see you're not a bad guy and then I'd tell her."

"I'm pretty sure she'll see me as a bad guy no matter what."

"Well, still, I was hoping…"

"I know. So, when do I have to meet her?"

"I don't know. That wasn't discussed."

"It's inevitable. Don't you think?"

"Yes," Claire said.

"You're okay with that?"

"Yes. It's not that I haven't wanted you to meet her. I just knew how she'd react. I have no idea how she'll react to Holly."

"Well, she's not evil so I can't imagine she'd be anything but decent to Holly. Me, on the other hand…"

"Maybe," she said. She shrugged.

"And your dad just said to be sure you're not late?"

"Pretty much. I think he just wanted it out of the way so he wasn't the only one who knew anymore."

"I can understand that," John said. "I'm surprised he didn't tell her."

"I think he thought this was something I had to tell her myself."

"Maybe," he said. "I still wish you would've warned me somehow that he was going to come talk to me."

"I knew if I did he'd know you knew about it in advance."

"I have a pretty good poker face."

"Against my dad? You don't think he's seen a few poker faces in his career?"

"I suppose," he said.

"Your reaction had to be sincere."

"God, Dawson asked me if I'd gotten you pregnant. When he asked me what my intentions were with you, I thought I had."

"He asked you that?"

"Yes! He didn't tell you what he was going to say?"

"No, just that he was going to talk to you."


"What did you say?"

He shrugged. "I didn't know how to answer him. I basically asked him if he didn't think my being able to go to school was the best option for all of us since he was there asking me what my intentions were."

"Good answer."

"Well, what was I supposed to say? That I plan on marrying you? I mean, I don't know. It's a little soon for that, isn't it?"

She shrugged.

"I mean, I guess from his vantage point I'm having sex with you so I could see where he might question my motives. I'm not saying I'm not, you know. I even thought when Dawson asked me about you being pregnant that in a few years when you were done with school it wouldn't be a bad idea."

She smirked a little at that.

"I just assumed that was between us. I guess if I was actually at the point of wanting to marry you I'd talk to him about it. Right?"

"That'd be up to you."

"But I'm supposed to. Your brother would talk to whoever he's dating's father."

"Yes," she said.

"Are you all right?"

"Yeah," she said, shifting her head a bit to glance at him. "Why?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. You're sure about transferring? I mean, if you think at all that I think you should…"

"I don't think you think that at all. I want to. I'll still be able to study. I don't have class every hour of the day during the day."

"I know, but I'm not going to be able to get a place right near campus."

"I know."

"So that means some commuting time, even if you don't stay with me every night."

"Every night?"

"Well, yeah. If I'm going to school Monday through Thursday and you're babysitting. You planning on going back to campus at nine or ten o'clock at night?"

"I suppose not."

"And then weekends."

"I just hadn't thought about it like that before."

"I have. I was going to see if you wanted to look at any place I'm thinking of renting before I commit."

"I don't have to…"

"I know you don't have to. You're going to be spending time there, even if you don't stay every night. You'll be there with Holly a few nights a week and I hope you'll be sleeping there, essentially living there."

"I can, sure. I'm sure anything you'd pick out is fine."

"Right," he said softly.

She kissed his shoulder, rubbing her cheek against him there.

"Why do you do that?"

"Do what?"

"Insult yourself? You're looking at an apartment knowing your daughter is going to be living there. Why would you choose anything that wasn't suitable for her to live in?"

"I wouldn't."

"So why do you think it wouldn't be suitable for me then?"

"I don't know. There are things that might matter to you that wouldn't to me. Certainly they wouldn't matter to Holly. A bigger bathroom. A bigger kitchen. The color of carpet or being able to paint a wall if you want to."

"I need the kitchen now?"

He chuckled softly, turning onto his side, and sliding his hand along her hip under her shirt.

"Well, you know the saying, barefoot…"

"Don't even joke about that. My parents would kill both of us. Dead. Holly would have no father!"

"I know, just teasing. I do like the idea of you barefoot, though."

"Why?" she asked.

"Don't know," he shrugged. "I guess because it means you think of it as your place, not as being a guest here. People don't walk around barefoot in other people's houses. At least that's what I've been led to believe."

"I guess you're right."

"You'll need a seat for your car, too," he said, pushing her shirt up.

"I suppose," she said.

"So, what's your dad's idea of late?" he asked, sliding her shirt off.

"Well, one o'clock more or less."

"More or less," John said with a chuckle as he worked the clasp on her bra.

"Well, if I get home at one thirty they're not going to say much."

"He's not. She may," he said.

"Maybe," she whispered when he closed his mouth over one of her peaks. "Now you're distracting me."

"Is it working?" he asked as he switched from one to the other.

"Kind of," she said. It wouldn't really matter anyway. She didn't like it when he stayed up much later than eleven o'clock. Holly was in bed by eight most nights so that gave them three hours together. And a couple of hours in bed together. She had to admit, she loved those two hours more than she ever thought she would.

"Fair is fair, Princess. You used your mouth to get your way."

"I know," she gasped as he nipped at the skin there. He focused there for a little while, always mindful what her bathing suit would hide and what it wouldn't. Though now that her mom knew…

Yeah, no, she'd freak out if she saw a hickey anywhere.

He seemed to know that, too, because he was always careful. Sometimes too careful, she thought, but she understood. She slid her hands along his shoulders and back. She loved the way he felt, the heat of his skin under her fingertips. His skin wasn't smooth as hers was, but she didn't mind. It was part of what made him who he was.

"Love the way you feel," she whispered.

"I think that's supposed to be me saying that," he quipped, nipping at the skin next to her belly button.

"You can, too," she said. "I do, though."

"If you say so," he said with a shrug. She knew he didn't see himself that way. She wasn't silly enough to think he didn't know he was attractive. Clearly he was. He just wasn't completely vain about it like some guys she knew were.

"I really love the way you feel when you do that," she murmured when he found her nub with his mouth. He didn't answer her and she was very glad he didn't. She sighed softly as he slid a finger inside of her.

"John, I want…"

He shifted a bit, sliding onto his back. He prompted her to move on top of him. He'd had to convince her the first time they did this, but he never had to talk her into it again. Using her mouth on him at the same time he used his on her felt too good all-around for her to worry about whether she should or shouldn't like it.

Neither of them were in a huge hurry to get to actual sex. Some nights they were incredibly anxious and some, like tonight, they weren't. She wasn't sure why or what the difference was. She just knew tonight she could have lain here on top of him licking, sucking, touching, and tasting him for hours and she would've been fine with it.

Eventually, he moved on top of her and slid inside of her. She gasped because him filling her always felt so good. She loved when he kissed her any time, but inside of her like this was even better. She never doubted his sincerity or that he liked her, but with her this way she could always tell what she meant to him. She hoped she conveyed the same in return. She tried. Neither of them ever spoke of loving each other. She wasn't sure why. Too soon? She was pretty sure she loved him from that day of detention on.

"You've thought of that," he said later. He'd have to go to sleep soon, but he always seemed to put it off to the absolute last minute when she was here. Sometimes she felt guilty, worrying he didn't get enough sleep when he worked so hard. He insisted he was fine, though.


He shrugged. "What being with Holly will mean?"


"Yeah, I don't know. I mean, before I go and sign up for school and stuff I need to make sure you've thought that part through. People are going to see you with her."


"They'll probably assume she's yours. I thought of that the day in January we went to the Aquarium. You having a seat in your car for her and stuff."

"The people who matter know she's not, John. I don't care what people who don't know me think."

"Really? You don't care that someone might think you were a mom at seventeen?"

"I'm sure it'd bother me, sure. I'm not going to let it affect me, though. I'm certainly not going to let it stop me from being with her and you."

"I'm just making sure you've thought all this through. I mean, there's dinners and baths and potty training."

"I know. You'll have to walk me through things like her bath and how to work with her on the potty training, but I'm happy to do it. If anything I'd want her potty trained!"

He chuckled softly. "Yeah, I guess you would."

"John, it's babysitting. I want you to be able to go to school. Do you have another option?"

"No," he said. "Not a viable one. I mean, I'm sure your mom would ask me about my parents."

"I understand."

"So, no."

"I'm not going to let a stranger's opinion about Holly and what my relationship is to her affect me. It might bother Betty. Have you thought about that?"

"I have, but clearly she doesn't give a shit enough. She called tonight, by the way."

"She did?"


"What did she want?"

"And that's the rub, isn't it? You don't assume that she called to ask me about Holly or to tell me she's coming by or anything. You assume she wants something."

"Am I wrong?"

"No. She wanted to know if I'd give her a ride somewhere tonight."

"Oh. Did you?"

"Nope. I told her Holly was already in bed and I wasn't waking her up. If she'd called me with some notice I might have."


He shrugged. "I don't know. I guess it would've depended on my mood. Maybe."

"I don't know that I like her calling you looking for rides."

"I used to do it," he shrugged.


"Because she's my daughter's mom? I don't know."

"What's different now?"

"I don't know. You? I mean, it's not you exactly, but I just realize I don't need to please her. Even if I didn't have custody of Holly I don't have to live my life to avoid pissing her off."


"And you."


"Yes. I know you think somewhere in the back of your mind that we were together or more than just a one-time thing. I'm sure when you were at school and you knew I was seeing her a couple of times a week you wondered if I still liked her."

"I believed you."

"I wanted to believe you did, and I'm glad to hear it. I think if the situation was reversed, though, and Holly was yours I'd be suspicious of the guy. So, I try to keep that in mind. We have a kid together, that's all we have. I don't owe her anything more than what I've given her. Now if she cleaned up," he shrugged.

"I understand you're going to have involvement with her."

"I know, involvement is not giving her a ride somewhere though. I mean, parental involvement is not doing a favor for her like that. She just had no one else to ask and knew in the past I would've done it."

"Did she like you?"

"I don't know. I really don't. I mean, she chose me for a reason it would seem. I don't know what that reason was. I don't know if she thought I'd react differently, do something other than what I did. Maybe she saw me as the best choice at the party that night. I have no clue. I've never asked because I was too pissed to find out what her intentions were. Then it just never came up."

"My dad asked me if I realize how busy you're going to be."

"Huh?" he asked.

She shrugged. "School. A job. Holly. Homework."

"Oh, making sure you don't get upset if I don't let you monopolize my time anymore?"

"Something like that."


"I told him I understand that."

"Well, I have no problem with you being around or anything. Studying is not something I'm used to doing, so I do hope you'll bear with me as I adjust to doing that for a change."

She snorted softly at that.

"What? I never brought a book home through high school."


"No. I mean, not a text book. Occasionally I brought a book we were assigned to read home."

"Which book?"

"I don't know! There were a couple that seemed interesting enough for me to actually read."

"You don't remember them?"

"No," he said.

She laughed softly, sliding her hand along his stomach. She should go. He wasn't going to sleep tonight for some reason and it was getting late. Even she knew that.

"You will tell me if you want me around less, right?"

"Less? I don't think that's going to be an issue. Just know some Sunday when you're watching TV I may actually have homework to do."

"And hell hasn't frozen over."

"I know it, right?" He chuckled, leaning in to kiss her. "If I haven't mentioned it, thank you, Princess. What you're doing, I can't ever repay you."

"I don't want you to repay me."

"I know, but I'm just putting it out there, how valuable what you're doing for me is. Your dad mentioned loans, and yeah I could get them, but I don't want to have to get loans for daycare, too."


"I mean I don't want to get done with school and be broke before I even start out."

"I know," she said.

"I know it's not just for me, but you could've transferred here and not offered to do it. So that part is for me. And thank you, really."

"You're welcome."

"You're leaving, aren't you?"

"How can you tell?"

He shrugged. "You always touch me differently when you're thinking about getting out of bed."

"Oh," she said. She hadn't realized that.

"It's subtle, but there's a … I don't know, good bye about it that's not usually there."

"We're sitting here talking, which is fine, but you need to go to sleep."

"There's a cure for that."

"We already had sex and you're still talking!"

"We could try again. Maybe the second time will work better. Maybe we didn't do it right the first time or something."

"Funny guy."

"I know, I'm just a riot, but I'm not sure I was kidding. About trying again, I mean. Clearly, we do it very right every time."

"John, it's after midnight."

"It is, so you'd better make up your mind fast."

"Why do I have to decide?"

"Because if you haven't already noticed my parts are already up to the task, I'm just waiting for you to tell me whether I should tell them to stand down or not."

"You're such a pig."

"I know it. You love me anyway."

She snorted, but slid on top of him.

"I love it when you take control."

"I know you do," she said. "I'm leaving after this."

"I see how it is. Have your way with me and leave without as much as a kiss."

"Uh huh," she said as she slid herself over his length.

"You can kiss me now to make up for it. So my delicate ego knows I'm not just a piece of meat to you."

"Good thinking," she said.

Return to Top

***Chapter Sixteen***
Word Count: 2,871

"How does your mother know Mrs. Kuzinski?"


"Don't do that, I know that you heard me."

"Uh, well, I think I told you she was a friend of mine's mom."

"Yeah," he said.

"We were friends together at church. You know, first communion and all of that. So our parents know one another. Why?"

"Mrs. Kuzinski told me your mother came by to see my daughter today."

"She did what?"

"Yeah, that was kind of my reaction, too."

"I didn't know, John, I swear."

"Oh, I believe you didn't know. Mrs. Kuzinski said she tried to be subtle about it, but she was asking questions and stuff."


John shrugged. "If I drop Holly off in clean clothes and stuff. How many times you pick her up. If you've ever dropped her off."

"Oh," Claire said, glad now she hadn't ever dropped Holly off. She'd spent a couple of nights with John, but he'd always dropped Holly off on his way to work. "What did Mrs. Kuzinski say?"

"Well, at first she didn't understand why your mom was asking. I think she thought maybe your dad had sent her, you know, to see if I was keeping up with her a couple of months into getting custody of her."

"Oh. Dad wouldn't do that."

"Yeah, I think Mrs. Kuzinski realized that, too. That's why she told me about it, I think. She said she didn't say anything bad, but she felt bad she'd answered the questions at all when she realized your mother was screening me."

"I'm so sorry."

John shrugged. "I have nothing to hide. Holly wanted to wear a dress today so I guess she picked a good day to seek her out."

"I noticed that," Claire said.

"Yeah, she does that sometimes, gets fixated on an outfit or something. Unless it's something real atrocious I let her wear what she picks out."

"I've seen her clothes, she doesn't have anything atrocious."

"No, I suppose not."

"I've never seen her dirty or anything either."

"No," John said. "Mrs. Kuzinski said your mom stayed for a little while and watched the kids. I'm going to presume her attention was focused mostly on Holly."

"I'm sure I'll hear about it tomorrow."

"Where were you?"

"Out with some friends."


"We went downtown for a while."

"Not the beach."

"No, why?"

He ran a fingertip along her arm. "No more sun than you had on you yesterday."

"Oh, no. We went to Water Tower Place."

"Ah," he said. "Did you max out your card?"

She laughed softly. "No, I did buy a dress, though."


"Uh huh."

"I see that look in your eye. What's the dress for?"

She shrugged. "I was thinking we could go somewhere nice for dinner the next time you get a sitter."

"The next time I get a sitter?"


"I kind of assumed I'd need to get one every weekend."


"To go out with you."

"Well, you don't have to every weekend, especially since I'm not going back to Iowa in August."

"I suppose not. Well, I still made arrangements with Lori."

"I didn't know."

"I just assumed it was kind of a given. So, that's what you want to do? Dinner? What am I missing?"

"I was thinking…"

He stared at her, suddenly filling in the blank.

"You want me to wear a suit? Are you fucking kidding me?"

"Well, you don't have to wear a suit exactly."

"So, you bought a dress that you can't just wear anywhere on a whim?"

"I never said I can't wear it anywhere."

"If you've got dinner in mind at a place I have to wear better than jeans at I'd say it's something that you wouldn't wear to come visit me at work."

She slid onto his lap, sliding her arms around his neck.

"That would depend is Erik there or not when I come visit you?"

"I don't know."

"Not that it stopped us that one day."

Huh. He hadn't thought she'd … liked that. He knew she hadn't left that day unfulfilled or anything, but her wanting to do that again someday hadn't entered his mind. He'd just chalked it up to one of those things she'd let him do, but it wouldn't happen again.

She kissed his neck and he sighed softly. He loved when she did this out here in the living room. He liked when she kissed him anytime, but like this it was just because she simply wanted to kiss him. He liked that a lot.

"Holly," he whispered.

"I know," she said.

Holly was about ready for bed, but she was watching one of the many videotapes he'd begun accumulating before bed. Some Betty's parents had given him because they were her favorites. Betty hadn't been too happy to learn they'd given them to him he found out later, but he couldn't blame them for doing it.

"So, not exactly a suit means what? Slacks and a nice shirt? A tie?"


"Fuck. There's a reason I work as a mechanic."

"I'd feel sorry for you, except you're going to school in the fall so clearly you want to do more than that."

"I guess," he said. He sighed. "We can go wherever you want."

"Do you have a tie?"

"I have a couple of them, yes. I don't have a suit, though, so if that was a requirement you'd be out of luck."

"No suit?"

"What the fuck would I need a suit for? I didn't have proper dress shoes until your father insisted I couldn't show up in court in my work boots."

She laughed against his neck. "I bet he did."

"Yeah, it was the only thing he told me absolutely I had to do, so I took his advice."

"Smart man."

"Me or your dad?"


"Thanks," he said, sliding his hands along her back to cup her ass. "I've got to get her to bed, but if you hold the thought of sitting on my lap…"

"I should go, too, actually."

"Wait. What? You're leaving? It's barely past eight o'clock."

"I know," she said.

"Okay. What aren't you telling me? Did I do something wrong today or something?"

"What? No, why?"

"You're leaving hours before you normally do."

"I know, but I know you're tired. I can see it and if I stay you'll be up later than you would if I wasn't here."

"I like staying up with you. I especially like staying up in bed with you," he said, sliding a hand along her thigh, pushing her skirt up a bit.

"I just feel bad."

"Let me decide what my bedtime should be, Claire. I'm a big boy. I want you here."

"Okay," she said.

"I'm going to put her to bed. If you wanted to have this off," he said, tugging on her skirt. "I wouldn't complain."

"On the couch?"

"On the couch, the floor, the bed, the wall, I really don't care. Haven't you figured that out by now?"

"I guess I have."

"You are coming with me tomorrow to look at that apartment right?"

"Yes, I said I'd meet you there."

"Just making sure you remember. I really don't want to make the decision without you. Even if it's only a one year lease, if you hate it you won't want to spend as much time there as I want you to."

"I wouldn't hate it!"

"I'd still like to be sure."

"I'll meet you there."

"Good," he said, kissing her as she slid off his lap so he could get Holly and put her to bed. She had no problem slipping out of her skirt while he was doing that.


"Mother," Claire said the next morning at breakfast.

"Yes, dear." Claire rolled her eyes. Her mom was still mad so calling her dear was forced and probably a bit sarcastic.

"Why did you go see Mrs. Kuzinski yesterday?"

"She shouldn't have told you that."

"She didn't tell me that. She told John. Who of course told me that my mother had gone there. You know, Holly's father. Someone comes around asking about her of course she's going to tell him."

"I was curious."

"Then why don't you ask me to have them over or something."

"I wanted to see her when he wasn't expecting me to see her."


"She's very cute," she said.

Claire was positive her mouth fell open in complete shock at that.

"She is," she said finally.

"I was surprised."

"Why?" Claire asked.

"I don't know, I just expected…"

"He takes good care of her, Mom. He really does."

"The pigtails were your doing?"

"Yes, I did them the night before after her bath and her hair had dried a bit. He usually leaves them in for a day or two."

"I could tell. I remember how you did your pigtails when you were old enough to do them yourself."

"Oh," Claire said, not realizing there was a distinct way of doing pigtails.

"Please tell me you're being careful, Claire."

"Mother, Dad and I already talked about this."

"Well, you didn't talk to me about it. I'm the one asking the question."

"Yes, we are."

"And you're sure about transferring schools?"

"Yes," she said. "I really wasn't all that happy in Iowa. I hadn't thought about it until I realized he wants to go to school and that if I was living here he'd have someone who could babysit the nights he goes to school."

"That still shouldn't be your…"

"My priority? I know that's what you think, Mom, but I love him. I want him to go to school so that he can support his daughter and feel good about himself. You know?"

"His parents?"

"Not involved."

"I've heard of them…"

"I bet," Claire said.

"They're not like us."

"No, but that doesn't mean he's not a good guy, Mom. Did you not hear me? I love him."

"I heard you."

Claire sighed. She'd never said it to John. She wasn't sure why or what she was waiting for.

"Are you going to need things from the house?"

"No, just the stuff I had in my dorm last year."

"His apartment is that furnished?"

"Well, he doesn't have a drawer full of mixing spoons of different types and sizes like you do or anything, but he has things sure. Why?"

"Well, if you're here, taking care of his daughter the nights he goes to school…"

Oh God, her mom realized she was going to be spending her nights with John.

"If there were things you needed so I knew you were all eating."

"Oh, he has things, Mom. I eat just fine when I'm there with the two of them. I eat lunch or dinner there a lot."

"All right."

"What would you have done if you'd gone there on a bad day?"

"Bad day?"

"Yes, you know, things happen sometimes in the mornings. He has to drive downtown, children aren't always cooperative. So, say she'd been wearing a dirty top or her hair hadn't been combed and pretty."

"I don't know. Mrs. Kuzinski said…"

"I'm glad she said those things, Mom, because I'd be very mad at you if you'd gone there and that was the case and you'd held that against him somehow."

"I just wanted to see her when neither of you were expecting me to. She says you pick her up sometimes."

"Yes, every once in a while."

"You don't have a seat in your car."

"I use his."

"I see."

"We didn't want to put one in my car…"

"Because of me."

"Yes, you weren't very nice to him, Mother. I thought you'd freak out if you saw I had a car seat in my car."

"He has a child…"

"Who he's taking responsibility for. More than just taking responsibility for. He saw she wasn't in a good place with her mother and did something about it. Isn't that worth something?"

"Your father has made me see that maybe that is."

"I hope so because I'm not breaking up with him."

"Just be sure you know what you're doing before that little girl gets attached to you, Claire."

"Mom. I love him. Have you not heard that part? I want her to get attached to me because I plan on being in her life for a very long time."

"Just remember you're not the only who stands to get hurt."

"I know, Mom, I won't forget."

"You can let your father and me know what night works for the two of them coming here for dinner so we can meet him properly."

"Probably a Saturday or Sunday since he works Monday through Friday downtown."

"Fine. Just let us know."

"All right," Claire said cautiously.

Was it really that easy? She went and saw Holly and was okay with it? Or was she up to something? Claire didn't think her mother was quite that devious, but she didn't really know. She never thought she'd be a completely judgmental bitch about someone either before John had started coming around the house last winter.

"You'll be home for dinner tonight?"

"I should be," Claire said. She usually was during the week unless John asked her to have dinner with them, but he hadn't for tonight.

"Okay. I have some errands to run, so I'll see you later. Have a good day."

"You, too," she said. She still wasn't certain the conversation was just a ruse somehow to make Claire think she had accepted this. She had expected her mom to be a bitch for a while at least. Maybe seeing Holly was in fact a real child and cared-for altered her thinking? Claire would never understand the way her mother thought.

She met John at the apartment he was interested in. She got there before him, unsurprising since he had to break away from work.

"One of those days already?" he asked when he saw her.

"Just a conversation with my mother. I asked her about going to see Holly."

"Oh," he said.

"It was surprisingly not a bad one. She said she just wanted to see her for the first time without you knowing about it first. She wants you and Holly to come for dinner some time, I told her weekends would probably be best."

"Oh okay," he said. "Yeah, sure, just tell me when we need to be there. It's not as if I ever have plans other than with you."

"Okay," she said.

"So you liked it?" he asked after they'd seen the apartment. It was actually pretty nice.

"Can you afford it?"

"Uh, yeah, I mean it's not like Shermer was much cheaper."

"I suppose," she said.

"Don't let the rent affect your decision. The question is can you see yourself spending your nights here? Eating breakfast and stuff here?"

"Yes," she said.

"Okay. There are two other ones I want to look at. One has a pool, which I thought maybe you and Holly might like for the summer. Dawson's mentioned my working a Saturday or two."

"Yeah, sure."

"All right. I'll see you later then?"

"Yes," she said. "Mom asked me if I was going to be home for dinner, so I guess that means I should be."

"Sure. After dinner then."

He leaned in and kissed her once she'd started her car.

"Thanks for coming apartment hunting with me, Princess."

"Sure." She shut her door then, rolling her window down a bit.

"What?" he asked.


"Yeah," he said, looking sort of concerned.

"It really doesn't matter where you live. Okay? I trust you to pick a place I'd be happy in with you two. I told you that before. If you like this place, get it, it's not far from campus and what's better it's pretty convenient for you to get to Lake Shore Drive and work or the Expressway if you needed to. Please don't worry about it so much."

"I worry. Sue me. I absolutely do not want you staying in your dorm more than necessary."

"I love you, an apartment isn't going to change that."

She drove off then, not believing she'd actually said it. She realized this morning talking with her mother she had to. She wasn't sure where he was, what his mindset was, and if her saying that wouldn't scare the crap out of him. She wasn't even really sure he wanted to be in love with anyone let alone her when all was said and done. She had to say it, though. She'd known after admitting to her mom it was how she felt that she had to. If she didn't she'd feel as if she was lying to him, holding something back. Certainly if she said it to her mother she could say it to him.

Easier said than done. She hadn't felt so panicked about much of anything in her life. The only time that came close was when she'd taken her ACT and SAT tests junior year, but it was a different type of panicked. Ironically, both times had something to do with her future, what saying or doing those things would do for her in the long run.

Return to Top

***Part Seventeen***
Word Count: 3,681

"What the fuck is your problem?" Dawson asked.

"Nothing," John said.

"Go home. I don't know what your deal is, but you're going to hurt yourself - or me - if you keep being as careless and inattentive as you have been this afternoon."

"Sorry," John said. "You don't have to send me home. I didn't realize I was that distracted."

"Problem apartment hunting? You get turned down for one you had your heart set on or something? I told you I'd be willing to fudge your work dates a little into the May side of things if that helps you out."

"No," John said with a sigh. "Claire said she loved me."

Dawson started at him as if he'd grown a second head or something.

"What?" John asked defensively.

"You're surprised by this?"

"Well, no, not exactly. She just hadn't until now."

"Oh. So, what's the problem? You don't want her to? You're not one of those guys that was in it just to get her to say those words, are you? Because you've been doing a pretty good imitation of a guy wanting a woman to love him for the past six months. So if she said it and now all of the sudden you're getting cold feet because of it you're an asshole and don't deserve her."

"You do, I suppose?"

"So, she said it," Dawson said, changing the subject John noticed. "You didn't say it back I take it?"

"She drove off before I could have said it even if I'd been able to process what she'd just said!"

"Process she'd said it. What the fuck does that mean? You need to think about whether you want to say it back."

"No," John said.

"Then what?"

"She drove off. As if she did it on purpose, waited until her door was closed and just her window was open so she could leave after saying it."

"Sounds like she might not be too sure you want her to feel that way."

John sighed. "I don't know why she would be unsure."

"Really? So you've told her that's how you feel?"

"No," John said. "I spent my childhood getting shit on by people that were supposed to love me. They're not easy words for me to say."

"They're not easy words for anyone to say. Are you going to say them when you see her tonight?"

"I don't really have a choice, do I?"

"John. Those aren't words you want to say because you think you don't have a choice. Do you love her?"

"That's a stupid question."

"I'm asking it."


"Then what's the problem?"

"I haven't even met her parents yet. She loves me, sure. So they meet me and despise me. You can't tell me they won't have some influence over her."

"Her dad already knows you."

"Sure, not personally, though. We didn't sit around and talk cars or football. He's a busy guy who did a child custody case basically pro bono for me, finding out later I was having sex with his daughter during the time he was doing that."

"I suppose, but he still knows you and has to have a handle on the kind of guy you are."

"I suppose."

"The having sex with his daughter part aside."

"Yeah, they want me to go over there for dinner."

"Serious stuff."

"Yeah," John said.

"Too serious?"

"Too serious? No more too serious than my wanting her to live with me next year. I mean she'll have a dorm room but she and I both know that's just a formality. Her parents have to, too."

"She's agreed to that, though, right?"

"Yes, I mean, I don't know, maybe she won't spend as many nights there as I want her to. I worry, too, that it's only been a couple of weeks we've been together so much with Holly being with me all the time, every time I see her. A couple more months of that she may not find it as cute as she does now."

"If she didn't want the girl around she wouldn't be with you. I mean, if she had a problem with kids she'd know already. And so would you."

"It's different, though. She's going to be babysitting her every week three and possibly four nights a week."

"I'm not sure holding off telling her how you feel is going to help that, if anything if she gets frustrated with Holly and you haven't said it she'd be out the door pretty fast I'd think."

"I don't know."

"So, what has you irritated then?"

"Nothing really, I didn't realize I was. Just," he shrugged. "Wondering why she drove off."

"Sounds like she's maybe scared of how you'll react to her saying so. That's a pretty big step for both of you I'm guessing."

John could see that. He hadn't exactly been forthcoming about having feelings for her. He thought it was obvious he did, but he supposed that wasn't the case when she knew he wasn't overly experienced on the girlfriend front before.

"Yeah, neither of us has much experience with relationships."

"Why not?"


"Why wasn't she swimming in boyfriends?"

John scoffed. Of course Dawson was only surprised by the fact Claire didn't have a team of ex-boyfriends back at Shermer High. He didn't seem surprised that wasn't the case for John. Why was that exactly?

"I honestly don't think she wanted them. I don't know. You'd have to ask her, I guess. I know it baffled me. I just know she never dated in high school. She went to dances and stuff, she had dates, she just," John shrugged. "Never had a serious guy."

"And you?"

"Uh, no. Not the way you mean. I didn't want anyone to find out about Holly. I had a reputation before her mom and I didn't do much to refute or change it. It was easier that way, no one found out I had a kid at any rate."

"And why didn't you two date in high school?"

"I didn't even really meet her until March of our senior years. We fooled around that one day, but like I told you before I couldn't have sex with her. Well, I could've but I chose not to. We were at school for one thing, I didn't have protection on me for another thing. I hadn't done that since Betty told me she was pregnant with Holly either I was scared it was going to happen again."

"Right, I remember that. Understandable."

"I never realized not going all the way with someone like her would be problematic, but she didn't know why I didn't and thought it was her or something I guess," he shrugged. "I don't know. I'm not sure I would've told her about Holly then anyway. I didn't want my parents to find out so the fewer people who knew about her the better chances of me staying alive."

"Betty never told them?"

"No," John said. "It was one of the reasons I felt kind of bad taking Holly away from her. She did me a huge favor, no one will understand the God's honest truth behind the words that she probably saved my life by not telling my parents."

"Yeah, well, you have to think about what's best for your little girl not her mother. You owe her nothing as far as I'm concerned. It was certainly nice she didn't tell your parents, but that doesn't indebt you to her for the rest of your life."

"I know," John said.

"All right, well go, get out of here."

"I'm fine."

"I know you are now, but I'm sending you home anyway."


"I don't know. Your girlfriend just told you she loved you. Maybe you want to, you know, do a nice boyfriend thing for her."


"John, if you need me to tell you that you need more help than I can give you."

"Yeah, all right," he said.

"I know what I'd do if it was me she'd just told she loved."

"I don't even want to know what you'd do."

Dawson chuckled softly at that. "Get out of here before I change my mind and keep you here extra late so she thinks you're avoiding her after she told you that."

"That be a lot more of a nice idea if I didn't have Holly to worry about. Even if I wanted to find a sitter I can't with two hours' notice. The girl I've used before babysits during the week as a job."

"Would you actually take her somewhere if you had one?"

"I don't know. Probably. Fuck I don't know what I'm supposed to do."

John watched as Dawson peered at him, wiping his hands on a towel. John could tell the guy was probably thinking he was the biggest moron in the world. He didn't know anything about love. Not the real kind, the good kind. He knew the kind he was supposed to have for his parents. He had no other experience with it.

"Bring her here," Dawson said finally as if sensing John was thinking about things he didn't want to be right now. The last thing he needed was to think about his parents.

"I'm sorry?" John asked, certain he was hearing things.

Dawson shrugged. "Bring her back here. I'll take her for a while if you're actually going to do something nice for her."

"Shut up," John said.

"Better not make me say it again, you have plenty of time to go get her and bring her back here. The free babysitting makes up for the gas."

"What are you going to do with her?"

"I'm going to drink beer and smoke cigars with her. What do you think I'm going to do with her?"

"Do you even know what to do with her?"

"I do have nieces and nephews. You remember that, right?"

"I do, sure, but…"

"The couple times I've seen them here or there I've babysat so my sister could go out for a while. The oldest is seven so it's been a while since I was around a toddler, but we'll be fine. The offer is going to be off the table in about thirty seconds. Get the hell out of here or I'm not doing it and I'll never offer again."

"Yeah, all right, sure," John said.

Was he absolutely insane for doing this? He wasn't sure, but Dawson had never done anything to make him think he was irresponsible. He was a jerk at times, but really once he and John had gotten to where they were comfortable working together he stopped being so bad. And, yeah, some of that might have been John's inability to take criticism at first. John was used to his old man's version of criticism and if it didn't get fixed the next go around words were foregone. He knew now, though, that he could learn a lot from Dawson and that Dawson wouldn't have offered him the direction if he didn't want John to be around. He would've just fired him.

He'd showered by the time John got back with Holly.

"Having second thoughts?"

"I can admit that."

"I don't blame you. I promise you we'll be fine. Put her seat in my car while I write my address down for you so you can pick her up at my place later."

"Yeah, sure," John said.

"Figure out what to do?"

"Uh, no, not really. I have no fucking idea."

"You could just ignore it."

"Yeah, that'd be good. I know if I don't say something she'll assume I don't feel the same way."

"Do you?"

"Well, yeah," John shrugged.

"Well, yeah?"

"Her parents weren't the best, but they at least did the best they could. They were decent. She's going to college and everything. She had things. I mean they weren't abusive assholes at any rate. That's my experience with people who supposedly loved me."

"You could be honest with her."

"Sure," John said with a sigh. "That'd go over just about as well as my not saying it back."

Dawson picked Holly up when she wandered near him. He looked so strange holding her. He honestly forgot he had a sister who had kids because they were never around. His mom came by once in a while, but Dawson never talked about her or what she was doing when she came here.

"Well, go do something."

"Yeah, sure," John said, glancing at the address Dawson wrote down. He'd written directions from the expressway, too, so John had a vague idea where he was going and how long it would take. "You have somewhere to put her to sleep?"

"She still sleeping in a crib?"


"Then yeah, if nothing else I'll sit with her on the couch until you show up so she doesn't roll off."

"She's been pretty good…"

"That may be, but I don't think I want her falling on the floor on my watch or you'll never do this again."

"I didn't realize there were more offers."

"You never know. Maybe she'll be my new best friend."

"Right," John said. He walked up to them then.

"You be good for Mr. Dawson, okay?"

She babbled something that John was certain he was supposed to understand but he just didn't. Dada was in there so he assumed she was at least talking to or about him. He kissed the top of her head, running his hand over her hair.

"Second thoughts?"

"A little."

"I don't blame you. I wrote my number on there, too. If you're worried or something…"

"Thanks," John said. "All right. I'll see you around ten?"


"Thanks, Dawson."

"I'll just add it to your tab."

John rolled his eyes, but he wasn't entirely sure Dawson was joking. He'd done some pretty decent things for John where Holly and Claire were concerned. Asking Claire out on a date aside anyway. It wouldn't surprise him entirely if Dawson expected something in return.


He probably came up with ten thousand excuses not to show up at her house unannounced on his way home to shower and change and then on the way here. He absolutely did not want to have a run in with her mom right now. He was pretty sure that was the last thing he needed. He heard tell that mothers knew things, not that his mother ever showed evidence of that being the case. Never mind her mom knowing what Claire had told him that morning, though he was a little worried about her knowing that. Was him showing up there, knowing she'd basically slammed the door in his face on his last visit proof there was more to their relationship than just dating? He still wasn't sure what to make of her showing up at Holly's sitter's house. He was afraid his irritation at that would come through.

He wasn't sure what to make of it. He sure as hell wasn't sure he liked it. He'd passed it off as being no big deal when he was talking to Claire about it, but it bothered him a lot that her mom would do that. To what end? To hope Holly was so unkempt and disheveled that she could tell Claire once and for all not to see him again? He honestly wasn't altogether sure if her mom put up much of a fuss about her choice in boyfriends she wouldn't give in after all.

Claire was innately a good person, and along with that she wanted to please her parents. He knew that it'd be awful hard for someone like Claire to go against her parents' wishes on a long-term basis if they were adamant about something.

Like who their daughter was going out with.

Speaking of their daughter. He still had no clue what to say to her. Oh, he knew, he just wasn't sure where to start. How to say it.


If he said it once, would she expect him to say it all of the time? Would she understand why those words were difficult for him to say let alone believe hearing from anyone? He believed she meant it, knew she wasn't going to flip out and turn crazy or anything because she'd said them. But what did it mean? What did she expect?

He'd thought about getting a haircut a couple of days ago, but had decided against it for whatever reason. Claire had mentioned she didn't mind his hair longer so he supposed he just got lazy and figured he didn't need to. Now that her mom was standing in front of him again, though, he sort of wished he'd gone with getting it cut. Not that he was going to lop it all off, but still.

"Hi, Mrs. Standish. I was wondering if Claire was home," he said when she didn't say anything. She wasn't looking at him as if she was going to shoot him or tell him to leave, though, so that was an improvement.

"She is," she said. "She's down in the basement."

"All right," he said.

She stepped aside, holding the door open for him, and he knew he didn't do a good job at all of hiding his surprise at that.

"Do you know the way?"

"Uh, no, ma'am," he said. He'd never been in her house before. Her mom was probably immensely relieved to hear that.

She closed the door and started walking down the hall. Was he supposed to follow her? Wait for Claire here? Fuck if he had any idea what the thing to do was in this situation.

"Is she expecting you?" she asked after a second. He took that as an indication he was supposed to follow her.

"No, I mean, not this early," he said, hoping that wasn't a bad thing to say. The last thing he needed was her thinking there was something wrong with his job or something. "I got done a little early today."

She opened a door.

"Claire," she said. "You have company. You can go on down," she said.

"Thanks," he said.

That was it?

He started down the stairs, not altogether surprised the door wasn't closed behind him as it had been when he'd gotten here.

"Oh, hi," she said.

"Hey," he said.

"Where's Holly?"

He chuckled softly. "You probably wouldn't believe me if I told you. I'm not entirely sure I'm not insane as it is."

"John?" she asked.

"Settle down, she's fine and in capable hands. She's with Dawson."


"Don't ask. I was going to see if you wanted to help me take advantage of having a last-minute babysitter, though."

"And do what?"

"I don't know. Dinner? A movie? Whatever you want. I told him I'd be there to pick her up by ten so we have time."


"Uh yeah," he said. "You sound surprised."

"I don't know," she said with a shrug.

He moved in front of her where she was sitting on the couch. She'd been watching something on TV when he came down, but turned the volume down once she saw it was him so he had no clue what she was watching. He knelt, settling his hands on the couch at either side of her.

"You thought, what? You'd say that and you'd never see me again?"

"The thought occurred to me, yes."

"Why did you say it then?"

"Because I realized I had to tell you. It's how I feel. You're worried about an apartment when I don't care as long as you're in it."

"And you don't think I worry about things like an apartment because that's how I feel? That I worry if I pick out something you don't like that you're going to think I can't afford anything better?"

"John, I know you can…"

"You say that, but I also know what you're used to and what your earning potential is studying to be a lawyer. So I worry and I want to be sure the place I get is something you not only like but want to stay at. You know, live in. Maybe not this year, but next year."

"I don't care how much you earn."

"Sure, you say that now when things like new cars and stuff don't matter."

"John," she said, leaning toward him a bit. She settled a hand against his cheek and kissed him.

"I do love you, you know," he whispered.

"You had to know I do, too."

"Yeah," he said with a shrug. "You wouldn't put up with me otherwise."

"There's nothing to put up with."

"Sure, just what every woman our age wants, a potential step-daughter right out of the gate."

"I haven't left yet, have I?"

"No," he said.

"It's nice to hear the words, though, isn't it?"

He turned his head a bit, kissing the palm of her hand resting against his cheek. Underneath the overwhelming sense of panic that she'd said those words and driven off as if she felt guilty or something was the feeling that he'd enjoyed hearing them. Immensely. Hearing them with no ill will or negative side effects. His mother's 'I love yous' had grown hollow and lacking in meaning so long ago he couldn't even remember when the last time she'd said it and meant it.

"Yeah," he admitted.

"Have you ever heard them before?"

"No," he said.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, kissing him again.

"Not your fault," he said, moving a bit so he could slide her off the couch and onto his lap.

"My mother…"

"Was actually bordering on polite to me today."

"That's good, but she's right upstairs."

"She is. She left the door open when I came down here, too, but I'm betting she probably guesses we kiss, Princess," he whispered.

"You wanted to go out," she said.

"I still do. This, though, seems pretty important right now."

"Kissing me?"

"Uh huh," he murmured.

She sighed softly but didn't put up any more of an argument after that.

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***Part Eighteen***
Word Count: 3,248

"So all is right in the world?" Dawson asked when John came to get Holly.

"Yes," he said.

"What did you do with her?"

"What do you mean?"

"Please tell me I didn't just spend the last few hours babysitting for you to take her back to your apartment and have sex."

"That would've been bad?"

"You have sex with her at your apartment every night," he said and John was very glad Claire had elected to wait in the car. He'd drop Claire off at her house on his way back to his apartment.

"Well, not with Holly not home we don't."

"That may be true, but the kid goes to sleep before nine o'clock every night. That gives you plenty of time in the bedroom undisturbed. So, you know what I mean. I offered so you'd do something different with her."

"I didn't take her back to my apartment. I brought her down here actually."

"Oh," he said.

"Yeah, we had dinner and then drove along Lake Shore Drive for a while. We stopped at the Planetarium and walked around out there," John shrugged as he put his arms around Holly and slid her off of the couch. He was almost an expert at doing this without waking her up these days. Getting her into her car seat without waking her was going to be a new challenge because usually when he picked her up from a couch it was to move her to her bedroom.

"That's better than I thought you'd do."

"Why?" John asked, knowing he was getting defensive.

"I don't know. You don't strike me as the most romantic guy, John."

John scoffed. His boss was judging him on how romantic he was? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

"Well, no, I've never had reason to be," he said softly.

"Word of advice," Dawson said.

"You're going to say it anyway."

"She's a reason to be. You've got a kid who people are going to make the assumption when you're out together is yours. I mean yours together, yours and hers. Maybe you could learn to be that for someone who accepts you and your daughter. And is likely to be mistaken for her mom more often than not."

"She's never…"

"Jesus. She's not going to ask. You got yourself involved with someone who is as high maintenance as they come. Pretend you don't think so all you want. Think of better dates than movies the nights you have a sitter or she's going to get bored."

John sighed. Dawson wasn't telling him anything John hadn't already thought of. He just didn't like hearing it because it meant the doubts John had were legitimate concerns. They'd had a nice time tonight, but John had to ask her for ideas on where to go eat because he didn't know the first thing about date-worthy restaurants downtown.

"She was all right?" John asked, hoping to get Dawson off of this subject for tonight.

"Yes, she was fine. We had spaghetti. I didn't have any macaroni and cheese so improvised."

"You gave her spaghetti?" John asked suspiciously.

"Like I said, I have nieces and nephews. I gave her just a little sauce. She was fine. I have washcloths. She got none on her clothes, you wouldn't have known if I didn't tell you. Admit it, I did all right with her."

"You did," John admitted. "Thanks."

"Sure, I'm not going to rush out and do it again tomorrow or anything, but you're ever really in a bind… You know, like theatre tickets or something and your sitter backs out."

"Theatre tickets?"

"That would be a very romantic date-like thing to do, John."

"Thanks," John said as Dawson handed him her things. Theatre tickets? She did stuff like that he knew. She knew at Christmas time she'd gone to see something with her mom and dad. Likely that wasn't the only time either. Fuck. That would mean suits and ties.

"You thinking about what those dates entail?"

"Yeah," John said.

"Hey, you don't want to deal with someone like her…"

"I didn't say that. She wouldn't go out with you anyway."

"Doesn't mean I wouldn't try like hell to convince her."

He probably would, too. John couldn't blame him because if he was in Dawson's shoes he'd feel the exact same way. Fuck it all if she wasn't worth having to buy a suit and tie for. Dawson knew John thought she was, too. He just enjoyed giving him shit because he could. "See you tomorrow," John said.

"I'll be there."

John settled Holly in her seat as carefully as he could. She woke, which he expected, but he hoped she'd fall back asleep as soon as he started driving. It was way past her bedtime and he didn't want to send her to daycare tomorrow tired and in a bad mood from being up all night.

"Everything all right?" Claire asked.

"Yeah," John said. "Sorry. He talks sometimes." He shrugged, settling his hand over hers once he started driving. She took his, lacing her fingers through it.

"He knows?"


"That I said that."

"Yeah," John admitted. "It's why he offered to babysit. I don't think he would've otherwise. You know, just randomly offer."

"He thinks you're crazy?"

"For what?"

She shrugged. "Loving me back?"

He wasn't sure how to respond to that.

"Why would he think that?" he asked.

"I don't know. We're not at all alike."

"Yeah, so," John said. "We're not that different when it gets down to it. I may not have followed the rules, but I know what they are enough to get by and even do all right when I have to."

"I know. I just," she shrugged. "Dinner tonight. That's not at all where you would have wanted to go ordinarily."

"Well, ordinarily you don't tell me you love me for the first time so no, you're right."

"I've never told anyone that."

"Me neither," he said. "I've never had anyone I even thought I'd want to say that about let alone to. Holly, I guess, but that's different."

"Right," Claire said.

"So that, in my opinion, called for something outside of what's normal for either of us. I mean, you don't go there every week. Do you?" he asked. It was a pretty nice restaurant. Not crazily expensive like some places he knew she could've chosen, but it was certainly nicer than any restaurant he'd ever been to before.

"No," Claire said.

"So, see. I don't know. What do you want me to say? I don't want you to love me? I do, Claire. Did I ever think you would? No, not really. Certainly not with Holly in the picture."

"Why have you been seeing me then?"

"Because I was sure hoping I could get you to feel that way. I just worry, you don't mind Holly now and I don't mind getting babysitters. In the fall, though, when I'm going to school and working very few hours it's not going to be something I can afford every weekend. So that means a lot of staying in, a lot of dinners and movie rentals at our place."

"I know that."

"I believe you do, but I'm not sure you understand that I can't go to school four nights a week, basically not seeing her those days and then get babysitters on the weekend. I got custody of her, but that doesn't mean Betty – or her parents – couldn't challenge it if they think I'm not spending any quality time with her."

"I get that, John, I do. You're the one who said you thought you had to get a sitter every weekend this summer. I didn't say that. I know you should be saving money now so when you're not working as much you have money. You're looking at apartments that are closer to me, which is nice but they're more expensive. I'm not dumb, I know that they are."

"Dawson's mentioned me making up the hours I lose by working Saturdays."

"You could."

"That'd be up to you, though."

"Oh," she said.

"It would defeat the purpose of my driving all the way downtown to work for eight hours to pay a babysitter for the time I'm there. I mean to try and make up for the hours I'm losing. You know?"

"I do."

"See, I'm laying this shit on you and you shouldn't have to deal with it."

"Maybe I shouldn't, but that doesn't mean I don't love you and want to deal with it. And Holly isn't shit you're laying on me. She's your daughter who you went through a lot of effort to be sure she was in a better place than she was in before."

"I know," he said.

They stopped talking about that the rest of the way to her place, which was good. He didn't want to dwell on the fall. He wasn't sure she'd understand how scared he was to be doing this. Never mind the work thing, losing that many hours every week was certainly scary. He'd barely gotten through high school. Granted, that was his doing not because he was incapable. He just hadn't given a shit and wanted to show everyone that was the case. This wasn't high school, though. This was the rest of his life, the potential to do better, have better, and be able to give Claire better. He just wasn't sure he'd be able to do it when all was said and done.

"Is your mom up watching for us?"

"I don't know. Why?"

"I can't really leave Holly in the car alone."

"Oh," she said, reaching for her door handle.

"I'll get it. I didn't mean I can't get out of the car, just walking you to your door is about as much as I can do. She's not going to freak out I don't come in or anything, is she?"

"No, I don't think so."

"All right, she was decent to me this afternoon I don't want to undo that because I don't want to wake Holly up for ten minutes."

"No, I'd explain it to her if she said something anyway."

"All right," he said, getting out then to open her door for her.

"Thank you for dinner and everything. It's been a long time since I just drove around downtown like that."

"Well, thanks for coming with me and the suggestion for the restaurant. I have no clue where to take you, so I'm glad you gave me an idea of what you actually like."

"John, it's not that hard…"

"Says you!"

"Except I've never done this before either."

"Sure, but you went to dances, have had dates who took you to restaurants that I don't know about because it's not ever been something that I had to deal with."

She sighed. "You're right, but we don't need to go to Allgauer's every week to make me happy."

"I know, but you're going to expect – and deserve – better than Wag's."

"Wag's is fine."

"Yeah, well, tonight I thought you deserved better than that."

"Tonight I agree with you."

"Thank you," he said. He leaned in and kissed her.

"I could go to your…"

"No, not tonight. Your mom would know you were leaving with the express purpose of coming to my place at close to eleven o'clock at night when I work tomorrow. Like I said, she was decent, let's not shove her nose in it that we're doing more than kissing."

"I can't remember the last night I didn't end up at your place."

"I know, right? It has been a while. I'm not sure I'll be able to go to sleep."

"Shut up."

"You tire me out very well, Princess."

"Ha ha."

"I'm not sure that was a joke. It's a very pleasurable way to get ready for bed."

"Says the nineteen year old guy who didn't have sex for years before January."

"Yeah, well, it's true. I broke my abstinence for you not for anyone else."

"I love you, too."

He chuckled a bit, kissing her again. "I have to go."

"I know. Sleep well. If you can't sleep you could call me…"

"Hmm. You going to tell me a bedtime story?"

"I could."

"The good kind?"

She sighed, kissing his chin and then his jaw. "I could try."

"Once upon a time…"

"Yeah," she whispered.

He slid his hands to her cheeks, kissing her again. "I do love you. I can't promise you I'm going to be the most outstanding boyfriend at saying it at every turn or anything, but I think you know me well enough to know I don't just casually feel that for anyone either."

"I know."

"So I'm not walking away."


"From you. From us. From love."

"I believe you."

"That doesn't mean I don't have doubts or think you'll come to your senses one day and realize you deserve someone like Craig Foltun."

"Funny because I've wondered why it took you so long to come to your senses and realize that you deserve me."

"I'm not Craig."

"That's good because I realized that day at school I don't want someone like Craig, John. I want you. That's who and what I want. Holly, mechanic if that's what you end up deciding you like doing, and all." She leaned in and kissed him. "Be sure to thank Erik for me in the morning, too. Okay?"


"I love you, not him. I just want you to tell him that I appreciated it, too."

"Yeah, okay."

"Go home and tuck your daughter in and just think in a couple of months you won't have to drop me off on my parents' doorstep anymore. We'll be able to tuck each other in every night."

"That sounds wonderful."

"I think so, too."

"Them knowing we were doing that…"

"Steps, John. I will tell them, I promise. Next year when I don't have a dorm they will know. I'm giving them time to get used to this. Me having a boyfriend. You. Us. Holly."

"I get it."

"Thank you."

"So you're saying you don't care if I go to school?"

"I care because you want to go. You said you want to. If you didn't want to that wouldn't bother me. You have a job. You're supporting your daughter."

"I come home filthy…"

"I don't care! Fuck, John, did I care that day we had sex while you were at work?"

"Well, no," he said.

"I don't care. If you're going for me or because you think you need to for me or my parents…."

"No, I need to go for Holly." He shrugged. "I have to admit, I like Dawson, though."

"I know you do," she said. She knew that wasn't easy for him to admit either. He didn't have many friends. He didn't let himself trust people to get close enough to befriend people.

"Go home, John. Get Holly to bed. I'll see you tomorrow." She ran a fingertip along his arm. "Maybe I'll bring you lunch."


"Uh huh."

"You mean the kind where I might make you dirty again?"

"Yes, that kind."

"I love that kind of lunch."

She laughed softly. "Me, too."

"You know, I was thinking maybe there was something I could major in that would be useful in other jobs, but with him too until I'm ready to leave. Or maybe I could work for him part-time or something. I mean, he's being more than fair and he can teach me a lot."

"I know he can."

"He can't teach you a lot, honey."

She laughed softly. "I don't think I'd want to learn what he could teach me anyway."

"Good to know."

"And if that's what you want to do, ask him. I think he likes having you work for him as much as you like working there. If he won't answer you or can't, we could talk to my dad for some ideas. I don't honestly know what kind of majors would work for that. He may not know either. Small Business?"

"Just what I want to do, ask your dad for advice."

"At least he'd know you're thinking about a future."

"Yeah, with you."

"John, he already knows we are. He's not stupid, so talk to him if you need to. He knows you already so you may as well."

"I know. Thank you. I don't really have anyone else to talk to about this shit."

"You can talk to me about anything anytime. I bet you could Dawson, too."

"So, next year, huh?"


"Living with me?"

"Is that all right?"

"Yeah, I didn't realize you'd actually, officially do that. I figured it'd be off the books until you graduated and we got married."

"As long as we don't have any more kids before we were to get married my parents wouldn't have much choice but to deal."

"Your dad's paying for your school though."

"My dad isn't going to stop paying for my school, John."

He turned to go then, stopping at the bottom of the steps leading from her front door.

"What?" she asked, turning to face him? She'd already started unlocking the door.

"You just said more kids."


"Just wondering if you realized what you said."

"I not only realize it but meant to say it. She's going to be living with us. I'll treat her as close to being mine as I know how to do, John. And I understand what that means, that people may think she is really mine. That's their problem not mine or yours. The people who matter, my parents, know she's not. And, well, she's a beautiful and good girl, I'd be flattered to be mistaken for her mom."

"I'd be pretty flattered, too, Princess, that they'd think a guy like me could've gotten a girl like you to sleep with me back then."

"I'm sure you could've if you'd tried, John."

He chuckled softly.

"Go home, John."

He walked to the car then, glad Holly was still asleep. He turned the car on again, waiting to be sure Claire got in all right and turned the lights off before pulling off the driveway. He glanced at Holly in the rearview mirror once he was on the street leading from their house.

Marriage. Kids. Moms. I love you.

Man, a year ago that shit would've scared the living crap out of him and here he was now kind of wishing they didn't have to wait. At least for the living together part. The kids' part he could probably wait a few years for and not complain about.

Yeah, he wouldn't get too shook up at someone mistaking Claire for her mom either. Betty might, but that was her problem. One she could fix very easily if she chose to. At this rate Claire was going to be the only mom Holly ever really knew because Betty certainly was putting on a pretty good act at no longer being interested.

"All right, Kiddo, let's get Daddy home to bed," he said, not that she heard him.

He drove past Shermer High on his way to his apartment. He didn't miss the place one bit, but he had to admit it'd be pretty cool to see Assistant Principal Vernon's face about now to where John's life was headed. It would almost be worth walking through those doors again one day.


~The End~

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